OLLU grad part of NASA launch

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OLLU graduate Yvonne Villegas-Aguilera worked on the Ares I-X moon rocketOLLU graduate part of NASA Ares I-X moon rocket launch

The first test flight of NASA’s new moon rocket in late October generated international media coverage. Behind the scenes of the launch was a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University, a woman who helped design and assemble the rocket motor.

Yvonne Villegas-Aguilera (‘02) is a solid propulsion systems engineer who monitored the temperature and performance of the rocket motor from Mission Control. The launch carried the 327-foot Ares I-X rocket approximately 25 miles up before it separated by design. Waiting ships moved in to recover the booster and sensors that fell into the ocean.

"This is the new vehicle that’s going to take future astronauts to the space station and eventually to the moon," said Villegas-Aguilera, a Chemistry graduate and former McNair scholar. "We were cheering, hugging, clapping. It was a really big adrenaline rush for us. We spent years working on this. It was surreal."

Ares I-X moon rocket at launchVillegas-Aguilera credits Warren Villaescusa, a retired OLLU chemistry professor, for much of her success. She says Villaescusa encouraged her to apply for an internship at NASA and wrote a letter of recommendation. The internship led to two summer jobs at NASA, a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and her current position as a rocket engineer.

Raised by her grandparents in El Paso, Villegas-Aguilera is a trailblazer. A Pell Grant helped her become the first in her family to graduate from college. And she was the lone Latina at Mission Control. "It surprises me that I work at NASA," she said. "It’s not a job. It’s a dream."

Read about Villegas-Aguilera on Latino Life blog.

Photos: (Above, right) Yvone Villegas-Aguilera pictured with the Ares I-X rocket she helped design. (Above, left) The Ares I-X moon rocket at launch. (Photos courtesy of NASA).