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CSULA grad student launches rocket, career in JPL program

Phaeton project equips Merida with technical, hands-on experience

Pictured: Elvis Merida posing in front of JPL rocket.
Elvis Merida poses in front of the sounding rocket before its launch at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Source: JPL)

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Blast off! For CSULA graduate student Elvis Merida, it was a pretty intense experience and a proud moment to countdown and to witness the recent flight of a sounding rocket up to 120 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

Picture of Elvis Merida.
(Source: JPL)

The JPL payload flying on the rocket was developed hands-on, from concept to launch, by Merida and his fellow team members from the Phaeton Early Career Hire Development Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The goal of the project, officially called Terrain Relative Navigation and Employee Development (TRaiNED), was to improve precision landing for future mission to Mars and other destinations.

The JPL Phaeton program, established in 2008, trains rising engineers and scientists to provide them with the necessary experience of having worked on a technical project and then advances them to other career opportunities at JPL. Assigned to work on a small-payload project through the entire development process, each member is matched with an experienced JPL mentor who will guide and enhance one’s technical and leadership skills.

“The best thing about the Phaeton program is taking a project from the idea to launch and taking ownership of the decisions,” said Merida, who was the TRaiNED mission assurance manager. In this capacity, Merida was responsible for overseeing the Safety & Mission Assurance team’s resources, schedule and costs; managing the environmental requirements, reliability issues, hardware and software quality assurance and systems safety; and maintaining the risk posture classification.

Merida, who is currently working on his second master’s degree in electrical engineering at Cal State L.A., is also involved with the San Fernando Valley section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and master’s degrees in engineering management from CSU Northridge.

Merida shared, “I chose to enroll in Cal State L.A.’s electrical engineering program due to its reputable power and energy program as well as its connections with JPL. I know I made the right choice!”

After adding rocket launching to his credentials, Merida said he’ll now focus on completing his master’s degree, in order to pursue a career in power systems and technology infrastructure. He said, “I hope to work in this field with JPL, which is currently a partner with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.”

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Last Update: 01/12/2016