After that defining moment, King followed his passion, deciding on a career in the space industry. Shortly after graduating from Baker, he began supporting NASA’s Space Shuttle Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, working first as a technical writer at the Rockwell Space Operations Co., later known as United Space Alliance, LLC.
King recently shared his Baker and career story with math and science students on the Baldwin City campus. He credited meeting Sam Deel, '66, a fellow member of Zeta Chi and a Rockwell employee, for helping launch his career. At a fraternity event during alumni weekend in 1989 all the graduating seniors were required to introduce themselves and announce their career plans.
“I told him I wanted to work for NASA,” recalled King, now the deputy manager for the Engineering Directorate Planning and Control Office at the Johnson Space Center. “I probably would not have gotten into the space program if I had not met with Sam. I have been working my dream job ever since.”
In addition to capitalizing on the timely networking, King touted the one-on-one attention from professors and his time as an admission assistant for developing his interpersonal skills. The personal attention and the chance to showcase the Baldwin City campus to prospective students served him well and he relayed that message to the current students.
“Students need to take advantage of every opportunity and find something they love to do,” he said. “They shouldn’t be afraid to fail. This is a pivotal time in their life. Now is the time to figure out what they want to do.”
While visiting his alma mater, King presented the University with an exterior thermal protection tile from a space shuttle. The tile will be on display next year at the Ivan L. Boyd Center for Collaborative Science Education.
King has sat in a space shuttle and witnessed four shuttle launches and following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 served as the Space Shuttle Program configuration management liaison across Texas and Louisiana. He received multiple awards for his support in the field during the investigation and recovery effort.
A piece of Baker actually traveled on a space shuttle before the phasing out of the program. On March 15, 2009, King’s Baker University class ring was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, launched from the Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station. According to the certificate of authenticity signed by the entire shuttle crew, Discovery reached a maximum altitude of 226 statute miles and a maximum speed of 17,685 miles per hour. The flight lasted 12 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes and 33 seconds.
“I love working at NASA and being a part of history,” King said.
And King loved his time at Baker, where he was active in his fraternity, participated in the band and was a disc jockey at KNBU.
“Baker provided a well-rounded education,” he noted proudly. “If you want a project to succeed, you have to convince people and sell it to them. A liberal arts education helps develop the interpersonal skills necessary to be a team player and make a project work.”