From Vietnam to NASA, a Husband-and-Wife Team of Engineers Reflect on Their Long Journey to the Marshall Center
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
News release: 07-066
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – To get to where they are today, Drs. Huu and Diep Trinh have traveled farther than most -- fleeing war-torn Vietnam, overcoming language and financial barriers to get their education, and making the leap from war refugees to U.S. citizens. They're a husband-and-wife team of engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The Trinhs have been married -- and working for NASA -- for more than two decades. Today, Diep Trinh is a structural materials engineer at the Marshall Center's Material Processes Laboratory, where she develops and tests materials for the space shuttle's solid rocket motor. Huu Trinh is an aerospace engineer, working as the propulsion lead on a “LOX-methane” engine -- fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid methane -- being developed for potential use in a lunar-ascent vehicle.
They've come half-way around the world to set their sights on space exploration. Huu and Diep Trinh grew up in the same small town of BacLieu in South Vietnam, survived the fall of Saigon in 1975, and made their way to the United States in the early 1980s via an Indonesian refugee camp.
As the United States marks Asian-Pacific Heritage Month in May, the Trinhs pause to reflect on the benefits and challenges they face as American citizens. "I really appreciate America letting us in and giving us a chance," Diep says. "Whatever we have right now, we owe to the American people, so we work very hard to return it."
The Trinhs are no strangers to hard work, including overcoming some daunting barriers to get their educations. "When I came to the United States, I didn't even know how to say 'hello' in English," Diep says. "Aside from financial aid, my biggest challenge was learning English. In college, sometimes I'd sit in class and not understand what the teacher was saying, so I'd have to go home and learn the material there instead."
Overcoming these obstacles, she earned her bachelor's in chemistry at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri at Rolla. Huu earned his master's in engineering from the University of Missouri at Rolla and his doctorate in engineering from the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Today, the Trinhs keep in touch with their family in Vietnam through telephone calls and occasional visits to their birth country. Even as the Trinh's fellow U.S. citizens might marvel at how far the Trinhs have come, those back home in Vietnam marvel at how far the couple has gone. "They cannot believe that both of us come from a small village, and yet we work for the space program in the United States," Huu says. "They are really proud of us."
The parents of three daughters, the Trinhs strive to pass on the best of both worlds to their children. A challenge, the couple says, is helping their daughters understand both the traditions of their homeland and the benefits of life in America. "I take my kids back to Vietnam, so they can see their heritage and can appreciate what we have in the United States," Diep says.
Huu shares that sentiment. "We should not take things for granted over here," he says. "We want to set a good example for our children that we work hard, so we try our best."
Today, one of their daughters is in college, one is in junior high, and one is in elementary school. Each has a different career goal. One is studying to become a lawyer, one is looking toward a career in medicine, and the youngest has Olympic aspirations in figure skating. The Trinhs make their home in Huntsville.