"The amount of knowledge and understanding that the Stanford professors have is immense and it really opens your mind to new ideas and possibilities that you never would have thought about on your own."
"Becoming an astronaut has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid," says Eric Tapio, Software Engineer at Lockheed Martin. "Even though the competition is intense, I figure I have to go for it."
Tapio is currently working toward his master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics through the Honors Cooperative Program. "In order to even be considered for the NASA astronaut program, you must have a master's degree, so that's one of the big reasons why I'm in the master's program" he explains. The competition is indeed intense. Of the thousands that apply to the NASA program from all over the world, only 100 are chosen for the rigorous training program every two years. The odds haven't deterred Tapio, whose passion to learn and create has taken him on an interesting journey through Stanford.
Tapio started his career at Stanford when a colleague encouraged him to sign up for the graduate certificate in Spacecraft Design and Operation Proficiency. The unique program allows teams of students to participate in every aspect of the life cycle of a small satellite or CubeSat in a little over a year. Students gain valuable systems experience that might take 10 to 20 years to acquire in the work setting.
Tapio was part of the first Lockheed team of employees that completed the certificate program and launched QuakeSat, a small, fully operational satellite for QuakeFinder. The team designed, built, and completed the satellite in under two years while working full-time.
When asked why he decided to participate in the program, Tapio explains, "of course, Stanford's reputation was one of the motivating factors, but the real reason was that it was the only program I knew of that involved hands-on activity, where you worked on interactive projects that had real results. I learned so much during my time working on Quakesat, I draw on that information on a daily basis."
Tapio enjoys the mix of industry students and full-time graduate students and the different perspectives they bring. "I found that a lot of the full-time students wanted to do everything themselves and start from scratch on every project. They would tend to get very involved in a small part of the project and lose sight of the end goal. The industry students came in and immediately tried to implement schedules and plans for seeing the project through. Of course, industry professionals don't have all the answers, and it is refreshing to get insight from the students who are immersed in studies full-time."
In October 2005, Tapio and his wife Yunlu welcomed their son, Isaac, into the world. Tapio muses, "I'm still figuring out how to balance work, going to school, and my family. It's not easy, especially when I'm watching courses online at home and the baby comes up to me. My family will always be my first priority, the rest is a balancing act."