Shonte Tucker

Deputy Section Manager for Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering - NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)


John Muir High School | Pasadena, CA

UC San Diego

B.S. Mechanical Engineering

North Carolina A&T State University

M.S. Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Thermal Sciences

What first sparked your interest in space and science?

As a child l attended 4-H camp, and while there I remember looking at the Moon and the constellations.

How did you end up working in the space program?

My mother has been with Lockheed Martin for over 50 years. When I was growing up, my mom talked about the amazing aircraft designed and built by Lockheed, and she brought home pictures, mugs, and other things touting the amazing technology they developed there.

Given that exposure (or perhaps indoctrination?) at home, coupled with a tour of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), my fate was sealed early! By fifth grade my first long-term goal was set – I was on a mission to become a mechanical engineer and work at JPL.

Tell us about your work.

I am the Deputy Section Manager for the Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering Section. I have the privilege of being a part of the leadership team for a section of talented engineers responsible for the architecture of mechanical engineering designs and solutions that enable unprecedented missions and science acquisition, as well as mission-enabling technology and end-to-end mechanical systems.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

The launch of the Dawn spacecraft on Sept. 27, 2007, was by far my favorite moment in my career.

Dawn Launch
A Delta II-Heavy rocket launches NASA's Dawn spacecraft into space on its journey to the asteroid belt in 2007.

I had the honor of being the thermal mission operations team lead for the spacecraft. The mission operations role was new to me and the thermal complexity of the spacecraft made the job extremely challenging. The learning curve was steep, and the pace of the project was very fast. The launch and checkout period presented some challenges, but those challenges were met, and the spacecraft fulfilled its mission. The Dawn spacecraft was retired in 2018.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

My path to systems engineering began with a career in thermal engineering. Working in a discipline area that supported hardware design, build, integration, test, and mission operations gave me a very solid problem-solving foundation that aids me in my work as a systems engineer. So my advice would be to get work experience in a discipline area. You can go into systems engineering directly, but there is certainly great value in having depth in a discipline.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

Take as many math and science classes as you can, and find ways to integrate what you are learning into your playtime (ex. GoldieBlox, Smart Circuits), your extra-curricular activities (ex. FIRST Lego League, FIRST Robotics), and start or keep practicing computer programming (ex. Scratch, Python, Java).

Who inspired you?

My mom greatly inspired me, as well as several JPL mentors and tutors I met while in high school. I am so grateful to all of them.

Upon graduation, I asked one of the tutors what I could do to repay him and he said, "Do the same thing for someone else." I really took that to heart and have been very involved in STEM outreach ever since.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy hanging out with my family and friends, watching football and women’s college softball.

What is your favorite space image and why?

This image of the Perseverance rover's parachute after the chute deployed to lower the rover to the surface of Mars. For me, it represents the successful culmination of the design, analysis, and testing that went into a critical element responsible for the safe landing of the rover on the surface of Mars. Further, I love that it includes the JPL motto: Dare Mighty Things.

Perseverance Chute
This is an annotated version of an image taken by a camera on the protective back shell of NASA's Perseverance rover during its descent to Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. Using binary code, two messages have been encoded in the neutral white and international-orange parachute gores (the sections that make up the canopy's hemispherical shape). The inner portion spells out "DARE MIGHTY THINGS". The outer band of the canopy provides GPS coordinates for JPL, where the rover was built. - Full image and caption

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.