NASA People

Center Snapshot: Chris Moss
02.05.10
Chris and Grace Moss. Image above: Chris Moss designed his wife Grace's engagement ring. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By:
Jim Hodges

Chris Moss streaked through NASA Langley's new three-year co-op program in two years, earned his associate's degree from Thomas Nelson as fast as he could earn it and has a full-time job at the center as an engineering technician as a newly minted apprentice.

Give Grace the credit. Theirs is a Valentine's Day story.

"I knew Grace from church, but we weren't dating," says Moss, who works at fabricating parts with the most exacting of tolerances. "It was sort of 'if I could get into this program, I could have the potential to turn into something.'

"The way I was raised, you don't get a girl's hopes up unless you can pull through on them. I wasn't going to ask her to be interested in me if I didn't have something to offer."

Moss was home-schooled, and then he cut grass and made some money with his hobby, which is crafting knives and swords, and in rebuilding motorcycles. Engineering was in the back of his mind, but there was very little in the front.

And then Grace came along to provide the incentive to get on a path … to someplace.

Greg Howland, who works for Lockheed Martin at Langley, turned Moss on to the co-op program, and Moss attended an open house at Thomas Nelson. The path loomed larger, and he applied and was accepted.

Then he believed he could date Grace.

Then he decided that if he accelerated his way through the program, he could accelerate his way through their relationship.

He did the required 4,000 hours at Langley, but in two-thirds of the calendar time because he pushed himself to work longer at the facility while attending Thomas Nelson at night. He pushed his way through Thomas Nelson to a mechanical engineering technician degree in two years.

Last summer, he worked 32 hours a week at Langley while taking five classes at Thomas Nelson and planning a wedding and a honeymoon in Europe, funded by the sale of his last motorcycle.

"Well, I wanted to get married," he explained. "The idea of getting through the program faster was very desirable. Plus they said the top person in each class gets to pretty much pick where they want to go."

Before he could ask Grace to marry him, Moss needed a ring.

He had crafted an ornate sword and had a jeweler friend who collected them. The two struck a deal: the sword for a two-thirds of a carat diamond, some gold and access to tools to fashion a ring and some technical advice.

"I used computer skills learned in school to make a Computer-Aided Design program, and they helped me print the CAD program in wax," Moss said. "Then I cast the ring in gold. I cleaned up the gold parts and the jeweler helped me put them together with the diamond."

Ever the craftsman, he sees flaws in the ring every time Grace takes it off, and he wants to fix them.

"That's especially true working in a place like this," Moss said of working at Langley. "You always learn new skills, new capabilities, things you could do before but better."

Ever the bride, she sees no flaws in her ring and tells him to leave it alone.

His job is appealing on a couple of levels. One, he gets to use the latest and greatest of tools, a far cry from his work on knives and swords, which stemmed from contact with a 1770s forge at Yorktown.

"I never really had the equipment," Moss said. "When they said would you like to come here and make things with your hands, that was great. Before, most of my work was done with hand tools."

A second attribute to his job is the exacting work it involves.

"I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about things I work on," Moss said. "I'm very focused on that project. But duplicating that project is usually very difficult because I don't have the focus any more. I've done it before.

"That’s a problem I had with knife-making: replicating things. But here, in a job shop where you have to do something almost perfectly but you only have to do it once, that’s great. And the most exacting of tolerances means that there is a greater chance of perfection."

His long-term hope is to finish an engineering degree, probably at Old Dominion University. Long-term is the operative word here, because long terms tend to shorten for Chris Moss as long as Grace is around to provide the incentive.