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Center Snapshot: John Costulis
John Costulis. Image above: John Costulis of Langley's Systems Engineering Directorate. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Shortly after coming to NASA Langley as a co-op in 1983, John Costulis went through perhaps the best experience the agency can offer a young engineer: getting into a mission and seeing it through to fruition.

Not everyone gets to do that.

"I worked on the LDEF -- Long-Duration Exposure Facility," said Costulis, who was recently detailed to a job as the Deputy Director of Programs and Projects in the Engineering Directorate.

"I got to see it built and integrated," said Costulis. "I got to see it launch on shuttle, and I got to see it recovered several years later. That whole closure -- being a part of the design, being a part of the fabrication, being a part of the launch, being a part of the recovery and seeing the data analysis -- really completed things for me and made me want to stay in engineering."

The completeness and complexity of description is one of the first things you notice about Costulis, who lives in Poquoson with wife Kay, who is the Assistant Branch Head of Langley’s Information Management Branch in the Office of Chief Information Officer; and their son John David, a sixth grader; and daughter, Helen, a sophomore at Poquoson High School.

The description also carries to his avocation – fishing. Engineering applies there, too. He’s vertically integrated, designing and building rods and using them to catch fish.

"I've built everything from fly rods all the way out to custom off-shore trolling rods," he said. "I started when I was younger. I used to tie on the guides. And then one day I was looking for a hobby … I bought a rod-wrapping machine, a finishing machine. I got some thread, bought some blanks, got some grips, read a few manuals. Being an engineer, it's all a matter of process, all a matter of design. It's a matter of laying it out and executing it. It's pretty cool when you design it for an intended purpose and it works."

And then you get to data. In one case, that was provided by a 99.5-pound, 68-inch trophy cobia caught in eight feet of water off Poquoson on 30-pound test line using a live spot as bait.

Costulis describes the scene vividly: the fish picking up the bait, him setting the hook, tightening up the line and trying to keep it clear of crab pots. "When she came up to the surface, she just went 'shooooom,' " he said. "I said, 'Oh, we got a big cobia.' She probably took out 250-300 yards of line just like that. I just worked her back and forth to the boat and said, that's a big one."

The biggest in Virginia in 2003, as it turned out.

There isn't much time for fishing these days. Costulis also likes experimenting with cooking in the kitchen – "it's the Greek coming out in me," he said, chuckling – but there isn’t much time for that either. Since completing a 6-year appointment to the Poquoson City Public School Board he is now dedicating most of his time to coaching his children’s baseball, basketball and volleyball teams.

The Deputy Director job adds to a long Costulis resume that includes time with Engineering, Science, NASA Headquarters, Space Technology, and with Aeronautics. In addition, he had a brief assignment on the Business side of Langley, working workforce planning and analysis.

"About the only areas I've not worked in directly are the wind tunnels and center infrastructure," said Costulis. "I've worked in pretty much every other organization at the center."

In Engineering, "I've come full circle, because I started in the Engineering Directorate. I fell in love with the engineering because I got to work on hardware."

Exposure to the other areas of Langley helps, because much of what the Engineering Directorate does involves working across organizations and disciplines. "It's the application of the technology, and how we apply it to enable science research objectives is what it is all about," Costulis said.

Same holds true in success with his hobby. In one case, it has extended to son John David, who caught a citation spot in the Chesapeake Bay last year. "I've never caught one that big," said Costulis of the 1 pound, 6 ounce fish. "And he lets me know that he catches bigger fish than me."

Still, though, dad makes the fishing rod. It's an engineering thing.

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