Oct. 27, 2022

NDSU engineering alumnus leads NASA rocket team


NDSU alumnus Austin Decker (third from left, with thumb up) is a team lead for NASA's Space Launch System rocket.

Austin Decker, BS ’04, mechanical engineering, is using his NDSU engineering education to help NASA return to the moon.

Decker is the integrated vehicle loads team lead and the sub-discipline lead engineer for coupled loads for the Space Launch System rocket.

“SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever launched, and the human rating and heavy lift capability it provides are critical for the Artemis lunar exploration program,” Decker said.

Decker’s role in the Artemis program supports the development of the SLS rocket. He’s also responsible for organizing, training, equipping and recruiting engineers to work in the integrated vehicle loads and dynamics discipline.

“On that note, I would encourage any interested NDSU engineering students to look for NASA job openings,” Decker said. “The education in engineering principles that I received at NDSU is as good as any available, and the drive I needed to succeed in classes has also been very helpful in getting SLS ready to fly.”

Decker also encourages current students to apply for NASA’s Office of STEM and Pathways programs.

“Pathways openings essentially work as a co-op to hire program for undergraduate or graduate students. Office of STEM internships are more traditional 12-week internships,” Decker said. “Don’t be intimidated; if you are capable enough to do well at NDSU, you can do well anywhere.”

Decker, who graduated from Williston High School, chose NDSU because of the strength of the engineering programs. He says has many fond memories of his time in college, especially the football games versus the University of North Dakota.

For high school students interested in engineering, Decker says taking as many math and science classes as possible will build a solid foundation, but also recommends getting some hands-on experience.

“One class I wish I had taken was shop,” Decker said. “A practical sense for how designs become actual working machines or structures is very helpful in engineering.”

NASA is targeting Monday, Nov. 14, for the next launch attempt of the Artemis I mission. Artemis I is an uncrewed flight test to launch SLS and send the Orion spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth to thoroughly test its system before flights with astronauts.

“We’ll be launching the largest rocket since Saturn V and sending a little bit of Bison pride around the moon,” Decker said.

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