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J. Stanley Cook Jr. - Aerospace Engineer
September 16, 2010

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Tell us about the career path that led you to your present job.

What attracted you to a career in rocketry?

What do you think are the challenges for the future in the field of rocketry?

What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

What was the most interesting class that you have taken to prepare you for your career?

Would you like to "bust" any myth about science? What would you say?

Are you involved in any student rocketry projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

What advice would you give to students interested in a career in rocketry?


Tell us about the career path that led you to your present job.

To be quite honest, my career path really starts first and foremost with my father, J. Stanley Cook, and mother, Beverly Whitman Cook, who conveyed to me such a powerful sense of value in education and learning. I would never have advanced in life, after my biological mother abandoned my brother and me in Chicago when I was just an infant, if it were not for my dad and mom accepting us with open arms into their home and eventually adopting us. They provided a nurturing environment steadfast with unconditional love and enabled us to explore life's possibilities and curiosities while always having a safe environment.

I made it through high school, and by the time I was done, I was thinking I wanted to become a firefighter. After high school, I spent some time working towards earning an associate's degree in fire science from our community college in Des Plaines, Ill. While taking several math and sciences courses that were part of the curriculum, I found they were both interesting as well as relatively intuitive. It just so happened that one of my fire science course instructors took a moment during one of his lectures to talk about the hydraulic engineering work his son performed designing fire suppression systems and how it provided his son with what sounded to be a nice standard of living. I started thinking then about striving to do something in engineering. Coincidentally, although I had lived my entire life near the end of a runway at O'Hare airport in Chicago with jets flying over and rattling our house every few minutes, about the same time I had started becoming more interested in aviation. My stepbrother had decided to enroll in an airframe and power plant training curriculum offered by a trade school in Oklahoma. So I put the two together - namely engineering and aviation - and decided I would change gears and set my sights on becoming an aerospace engineer.

I asked my father if he would support such an endeavor. He wholeheartedly gave me his full blessing, as well as encouraged me to apply for enrollment at Parks College of St. Louis University to seek a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering. Although my prior high school performance was less than scholarly, the work I had performed since then in community college was deemed quite good and earned me immediate acceptance to Parks College. I did very well in the aerospace engineering curriculum there, and towards the end of my senior year, I met a friend who had recently been a co-op in the Propulsion and Power Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Her experience left me with a positive and interesting impression. She gave me some pointers on whom I could contact if I was interested in exploring opportunities to work at NASA on propulsion projects. I sat right down and wrote a letter, and it turns out my letter-writing skills are relatively effective, since I was soon granted an interview and in turn hired to work in the Propulsion Test Section of NASA JSC's Thermochemical Test Area. Within several years, I was testing auxiliary power units and rocket engines. In planning and conducting the test programs, I found rocketry to be an exciting subject area that I could enjoyably spend my time exploring challenging aspects of virtually all courses that I had been briefly exposed to in school as well as a host of new ones.

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What attracted you to a career in rocketry?

I've always loved campfires and flying model rockets. I was intrigued by the combustion process occurring within the camp fire. And ever since I was a small kid, I can remember trips to our local hobby store to search through the rocket kits and pick out the ones with the biggest rocket engines I could get a hold of. It was great fun taking them home to build, bicycling a couple blocks up to our high school field so we could launch the rockets to see how high they would go, and racing to see who could find them first wherever they might land this time around.

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What do you think are the challenges for the future in the field of rocketry?

I see the primary challenge to the field of rocketry as being able to quickly and cost effectively develop engines for new applications, including those that leverage the advantages alternative propellants may offer. Engines are a (if not the) primary cost and schedule driver in fielding new space project applications - anything we can do to facilitate developing new engines faster and at less expense will go a long way towards enabling the projects that they support.

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What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career was being a test engineer in the Propulsion Test Section at NASA JSC's Thermochemical Test Area. Everything was new to me and (it was) such a great opportunity to learn and grow. I was extremely fortunate to have a supervisor who was instructive and colleagues who were supportive in helping others understand and learn. I believe I really did well when assigned challenging new test projects that stretched my creativity as a practical engineer in being able to achieve the requirements set by my customer.

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What was the most interesting class that you have taken to prepare you for your career?

Thermodynamics was one of the most interesting classes that prepared me for a career in rocketry as an aerospace engineer working liquid propulsion systems. I can still recall on the final exam being able to apply the various principles I was taught and produce a correct answer for the test question that I wouldn't otherwise have intuitively thought was correct for the problem at hand. In addition to thermodynamics, I also found the following courses most interesting and helpful in preparing me for my career: fluid mechanics, gas dynamics and heat transfer.

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Would you like to "bust" any myth about science? What would you say?

There is one misconception that comes to mind that I think I can help bust. It goes back to my late teen years when I mentioned to my grandma that I no longer wanted be a firefighter but now wanted to become an aerospace engineer. She responded without a moment of hesitation, "But you have to be good in math." Personally, I believe she was also thinking, "and smart." So, now having raised four children myself and reflecting a little more upon my grandma's point of view, one possible misconception I would like to point out is that a person has to be naturally gifted to become a "rocket scientist" or whatever they may choose to do in life. I obviously was not - as my grandma pointed out so earnestly. To achieve your dreams, whatever they may be, I assert that it simply takes personal determination, a willingness to make sacrifices, a lot of hard work, and practice, practice, practice.

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Are you involved in any student rocketry projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

My youngest son is a student, and we work together on rocketry projects. Over the past decade or so we have slowly worked on a number of projects progressing from model rocketry to high-power rocketry that eventually helped us receive a level two certification. And now we are starting to design and build an even larger rocket that will enable us to achieve a level three certification. Our only impediment is my personal budget, since it can cost quite a bit to pull together all the necessary materials to build, fly and recover an L3 high-power rocket. While the certification is in my name, working on the rocketry projects is something that provides an opportunity for us to spend time together doing things that we both find enjoyable as well as challenging.

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What advice would you give to students interested in a career in rocketry?

With the support and active involvement of your parents/guardians, my first advice is to start working on your own model rocketry and high-power rocketry hobby projects to get early hands-on experience designing, building and flying rockets. These are great fun and quite challenging to fly and recover successfully, given they can be designed to go well in excess of the speed of sound and reach altitudes tens of thousands of feet high. I also suggest investing some of your personal time in activities and student launch competitions sponsored by local chapters of rocketry organizations such as Tripoli Rocketry Association and National Rocket Association. Through your high school or college/university, explore all options to participate in spacecraft projects and seek out space-related educational outreach programs, especially those that involve designing, building and testing rocket engines like the ones students can work on through the Amateur Spaceflight Association. While earning your college/university education, seek out cooperative education program opportunities at NASA centers and in the aerospace industry, so that you not only get practice applying and refining your engineering skills, but also building your personal network that will successfully enable your employment when you are ready to graduate.


Related Resources:

> NASA's Johnson Space Center

> NASA Education


Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services

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J. Stanley Cook Jr. stands next to a rocket engine
Name: J. Stanley Cook Jr. Job Title: Aerospace Engineer, Liquid Propulsion Systems Education: B.S.A.E. from Parks College of St. Louis University NASA Center: Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Hometown: Des Plaines, Illinois Hobby: Fishing, High Power Rocketry, BBQ
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NASA
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Page Last Updated: February 25th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator