October 14, 2003
NASA Engineer Opens Doors To World Of Science
NASA engineer Felix A. Soto Toro is an expert at opening doors. As project manager for the International Space Station support equipment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., Soto Toro redesigned payload module doors, so they open perfectly once joined to the Station.
Soto Toro also opens doors on Earth by sharing his love of science and math by mentoring students and business professionals. He encourages them to make their dreams happen --just as he has.
Growing up in Barrio Amelia, a suburb of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Soto Toro dreamed of working for NASA and becoming an astronaut. When he was just 6 years old, he got the idea from a Christmas present, a rocket, given to him by a neighbor. "I was fascinated with it, and I wanted to know how to build a real one," he said.
Watching the Apollo missions and the first Space Shuttle launch on the family's small television solidified his decision and stirred his determination. At 17, he moved to the United States to begin college at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Though learning to adapt to a different culture, not to mention mastering the English language, Soto Toro was able to earn a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1990. He was first member of his family to complete college.
While in college, he joined the co-op program at the Kennedy Space Center, working in the Real Time Systems Laboratory, which led to his joining NASA full-time in an electrical engineering position. Thirteen years later, Soto Toro, still in a "dream job" at NASA, processes and tests space flight hardware and ground support equipment for the Space Station.
Since 1986, he also has worked with KSC's Public Affairs Office as an educational and professional mentor to more than 50 individuals. For his time, effort and successes in helping others, he's been awarded NASA's Exemplary Mentor to Minorities Award and the Kennedy Center's Management Association Education Outreach Award.
"I love the challenges of what NASA is doing, enhancing the planet we live on and helping us have a better life by exploring space," Soto Toro says. "It's very rewarding to work with such creative people and to learn from them and share the knowledge I've gained," he said.
While climbing the steps of his career, Soto Toro has always made a point of helping others pursue their career goals. In college, he mentored other Puerto Rican students, helping them learn the ropes of coming to America, going to college and starting careers in science and technology. Today, you can still find him in high school and college classrooms -- in Florida and Puerto Rico, sharing his excitement for science at NASA, and encouraging students to aim high. His service to his native country has twice earned him the Puerto Rican Role Model Award, given by the Puerto Rican school system to honor citizens who contribute to the lives of students.
"I'm so thankful for the opportunities I have had," Soto Toro said. "I want to push students to be creative, to know big dreams can happen if students continuously challenge themselves."
Soto Toro leads by example. While juggling his many duties at KSC, he has continued to challenge himself to open new doors. He has made time to complete a master's degree in engineering management from the Florida Institute of Technology, as well as master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. His goal is to become a mission specialist candidate for NASA's Astronaut Corps.
He's well on his way. He passed the first applicant screening, and hopes to be called back for an interview. NASA will announce its new class of astronauts in December.
"I've seen first-hand the opportunities that open up to you when you are willing to step outside your world. In my case, when I was just a teenager, I stepped outside my world, my neighborhood, to pursue my goals in life," Soto Toro said.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Soto Toro should contact Tracy Young, KSC Public Affairs, at: 321/867-9284.
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