Many kids harbor dreams of becoming astronauts and working for NASA. University alum Ed Van Cise turned this aspiration into a reality.
Van Cise developed an interest in airplanes at an early age. As he grew up, his interests grew to include math and science and eventually led him to work at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
“The more I got involved, the more fun it was, the more interesting it was, and so I was able to refine what I wanted to do,” Van Cise said. “It’s kind of always been a life passion, I guess.”
Last month, that passion materialized into a high-profile career. Van Cise was one of three individuals selected to become flight directors in NASA’s Mission Control at Johnson Space Center.
Flight directors are responsible for a variety of tasks within Mission Control, ranging from managing shuttle and space station missions to coordinating work within NASA and with NASA’s international partners.
Van Cise, who graduated from the University with a degree in aerospace engineering, attributed both his time in Ann Arbor as a student and his involvement with Johnson Space Center’s Cooperative Education Program as the biggest factors to securing his career.
The Cooperative Education Program hires students to work full-time at Johnson Space Center for three semesters. NASA rarely hires applicants who haven’t participated in the program, and the competition is especially difficult — more than 800 applicants apply each year for 45 positions.
Van Cise’s first semester at NASA started in Jan. 1998. During his time in the program, he worked in several departments, doing everything from helping with research projects to becoming certified to teach diagnostics to crew members on the International Space Station.
Van Cise said that getting the chance to work at Johnson Space Center as an undergraduate cemented his desire to work for NASA after graduation.
“I grew up thinking that I really wanted to work at NASA, but actually having the experience and getting the opportunity to do it, I was able to see first-hand what it’s like before making a career out of it,” he said.
Van Cise added that his time at the University had a major influence on him becoming flight director because it laid the foundation for his future successes.
“The undergrad experience certainly set me up for everything that I’ve been exposed to here,” Van Cise said.
He credited his time in the College of Engineering for giving him the skills needed to succeed at NASA. As an undergraduate, Van Cise was able to participate in a variety of extracurricular projects — including one project that was flown on NASA’s zero-gravity vehicle.
For Van Cise, having so many opportunities to learn was vital in allowing him to grow personally.
“There are so many enablers on campus for people to be able to develop themselves and be exposed to so many different opportunities,” Van Cise said.
After graduation, NASA hired Van Cise full-time in 2000. Prior to his promotion to flight director, Van Cise had worked for numerous departments, performing tasks such as space station maintenance training and working as a flight controller.
Currently, Dina Contella and Scott Stover — two other new flight directors — are joining Van Cise in preparing for their new roles in Mission Control. All three candidates are undergoing a rigorous training schedule of classes and simulations that lasts nine to 10 months.
John McCullough, chief of the Flight Director Office, wrote in a statement that NASA officials are enthused for the incoming class of flight directors.
“This is a very strong class with senior flight controllers who have an average of 10 years of flight control experience and nearly two years of group lead management experience,” McCullough said.
But for now, though, Van Cise is looking toward the future while remaining appreciative of the work that got him where he is today. Becoming flight director had been Van Cise’s long-term goal before he was hired at NASA, and he credits his attitude in helping him reach this point.
“My philosophy is if you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing, then you’re not going to be successful at it long term,” he said. “I’ve really tried to shape my career so that I’m enjoying what I’m doing, yet always kind of going towards that long term objective.”