Christina Deoja

What do you get when you cross a physicist and a cake decorator/florist? A NASA engineer obviously! I have always believed that a good engineer is a creative engineer. Attributing to my parent’s very different career backgrounds, I remember my childhood as being a split lesson in arts and crafts and science. With the help from my Mom, I would sell handmade beaded jewelry, keychains, and other small trinkets to kids at school, then I would go home to a science lesson from my dad. My Christmas gifts invariably consisted of some science kit, microscopes or children encyclopedias. Mounted in my room, the whiteboard was the site for my Dad’s many futile attempts at teaching calculus. I remember complaining and planning exit strategies during these lessons. These lessons might not have worked as well as he would have liked, but truth be told, they were absolutely instrumental in igniting my eventual love for science and mathematics. I would often browse through my Dad’s old college books on astrophysics, staring at the images of galaxies and nebulas. I was utterly fascinated with space. I was in fifth grade when I told my parents I wanted to be an astronaut.I began taking advanced math and science classes at school when they were offered. One day, I came across a news article in our local paper about a high school boy who spent the summer at Johnson Space Center (JSC) working with NASA engineers and scientists. He and other Texas high school juniors participated in the High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program. After realizing this was an opportunity for an “in” into NASA—and a space career in general—I excitedly applied for the HAS program. My prayers were later answered when I was chosen to participate!

The HAS program began with the online assignment portion, learning about different aspects of space exploration, such as propulsion, microgravity, and habitat modules. During the summer between my junior and senior years, I came to JSC for the residential week-long summer experience portion of the program. Throughout the week, my teammates, mentor, and I worked on several engineering projects. We built robotic rovers using legos and competed against other teams on a mini Mars course filled with craters, rocks, and water samples. The main project for the week was a simulated Mars mission where my team was responsible for the rocket design. We discussed what kind of rocket we should have, liquid or electric propulsion, how many stages it needed to have, and how we were going to mine our own fuel on Mars. We worked with the other teams to determine how big to make the rocket and what our budget would be. I really enjoyed the problem solving and teamwork aspects of the HAS program. I learned from our mentor that these are crucial skills for engineers. My HAS experience confirmed my desire to pursue a STEM degree so I decided to study electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Fast forward a few years to my college senior year, I, along with most of my classmates had started looking for full-time positions. While still hoping to work for NASA one day, I prepared myself for a life without space and rockets. But, the universe (pun intended) had a different plan for me. After being notified about my eligibility for a NASA-JSC internship as part of the Texas Aerospace Scholars (TAS) program, I applied and was accepted as a TAS scholar. I was going to work for NASA!!

I arrived at JSC for the second time, eager to dive into my assignments. I worked as a Test Director in the Propulsion and Power Division, under the direction of an experienced engineer. My mentor guided me through the process of testing hardware to be flown to the International Space Station (ISS). After graduation, I was offered a permanent engineering position at JSC. Since then, I have worked on electrical power systems and battery development projects on the Orion spacecraft and space station. My daily functions involve hands-on work and designing, which is what I truly love most about my job.

One of my latest work assignments was Project Morpheus, where I was named Wiring Subsystem Lead, responsible for providing power and collecting data of other vehicle subsystems. The project was developed to test green propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technologies. The project moved at a fast pace and within a few years, we had designed, built, and tested a lander from the ground up. After a few ground hot fires and tethered tests, we were ready to attempt an untethered free flight. With bated breath, my team and I watched as Morpheus rose into the air, reached up to the sky and then steadily descended, and ultimately landed safely back on the launch pad. For the team and especially for me, this successful flight was the culmination of all the hard work and long hours we invested in the past years.

I owe my career path to the education programs established by NASA which nurture young minds and provide them with a means to fulfill their dreams—I am a testament to the effectiveness of these initiatives. I have stayed involved with the HAS program as a mentor to high school juniors and it has been extremely fulfilling to see a few of these former HAS scholars joining our JSC team as my colleagues.

photo of Christina Deoja

Biography

Texas native, Christina Gallegos Deoja, had interests in space, math, and science at a young age and eagerly sought ways to get involved with NASA. In 2003, she was selected to participate in the NASA High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program as an 11th grader. The program gave her eligibility to later intern at NASA through the Texas Aerospace Scholars (TAS) program as an undergraduate student. As an intern, Christina trained as a Test Director, developing and executing tests on hardware using test systems such as power emulators, thermal/vacuum chambers and vibration/shock test stands. After receiving a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas, Christina joined NASA Johnson Space Center full-time in the Propulsion and Power Division. She currently works on multiple test and development projects contributing to the International Space Station and Orion spacecraft. Her role includes the design, test, and verification of the electrical power system and batteries. She also develops software for automated power quality testing and battery charger systems. In 2012, Christina was named Wiring Subsystem Lead for Project Morpheus, a vertical testbed developed to demonstrate green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard avoidance navigation technology. As lead, she played a vital role in the integration of vehicle subsystems by providing electrical power for all vehicle equipment and collecting data relating to power, propulsion, avionics, navigation, and structure. The Morpheus vehicle successfully completed 13 free flights and remains one of Christina’s proudest accomplishments of her career. Most recently, she works with battery experts to develop and test methods that prevent thermal runaway in space lithium-ion batteries, a potentially catastrophic condition that can occur when battery cells heat up and lead to further increase in temperature that can cause a violent reaction. Christina shares her joy for space and engineering with the students she mentors and interacts through the NASA’s educational outreach programs. She is married and has a one year old daughter, Mila. In her spare time, Christina enjoys traveling, cooking, and tinkering with electronic and home do-it-yourself projects.