A Warren County native is playing a part in the private aerospace revolution.
Vince Werner, a 2002 graduate of Sheffield Area Middle/High School, works as a launch engineer at Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which recently launched its Dragon capsule to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
After high school, Werner studied physics at Allegheny College. Werner said he had always found aerospace intriguing and decided on Purdue University for graduate school where he studied propulsion in the school of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
photo submitted for publication
Ready for liftoff
Vince Werner stands in front of a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket in August 2008.
"Purdue's Aero school is one of the best in the country, and the propulsion labs are especially strong," Werner said. "SpaceX has recruited a number of engineers from my old lab over the years, and I decided I would take the risk of working for this small, relatively unknown rocket company called SpaceX."
At that time, Werner said, there were about 500 employees and they had not completed a successful launch. They now have 1,800 workers.
As a launch engineer, Werner said he's a member of the team that designs, builds and operates the launch site. They also handle the final integration of the rocket once it arrives at the site. Werner works with the propellants and pressurants that are loaded on the rocket before the engine is lit and the vehicle released.
When the Dragon docked at the space station, Werner said he was feeling excitement, joy and amazement. The company had been working on the mission for a long time, he said, and watching Dragon being grappled by the station's arm was a great moment.
"I have to admit, though, there is still a sense of 'Wow, we actually did it!'" Werner said.
After delivering the cargo, Werner said, Dragon undocked, deorbited and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, Calif. It was successfully recovered onto a boat and sent back home.
According to Werner, it is not an understatement to say a new space age is beginning. For decades, mankind has been travelling to low-earth orbit. By opening that up to the commercial market, he said, it will introduce competition, drive innovation, reduce cost and ultimately increase accessibility to space.
NASA will be able to focus on deep exploration, Werner said. However, he also noted SpaceX has its eyes on that goal as well.
While growing up in Sheffield, Werner said he was lucky to have some great teachers both inside the classroom and outside of it, adding that they taught him he can do anything he wants as long as he's willing to work for it.
"Most importantly, my family has always been there for me," Werner said. "I know I have their support no matter what I'm doing, and that's priceless."