Jose Cabanillas Pic
Jose Cabanillas
UNF Degree: B.I.T. – ’79
Employment: Lead Space Vehicle Systems Engineer - LCROSS program Northrop Grumman Corp.

UNF is Cabanillas' ticket to space career

 Jose Cabanillas grew up watching Gemini space flights blast off from Cape Canaveral. He never thought one day he would contribute to some of this nation's most ambitious adventures in space. His ticket to a space career began at UNF when he graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in industrial technology. "What I took away from UNF as much as anything else was the ability to manage things," he recalls. He also found the math skills he acquired to be easily transferable to aerospace work.


"Dr. Adam Darm, (the first director of the industrial technology program) encouraged me to move to California and work in aerospace." He didn't take that advice initially and went to work for a Florida company that converted hard-top automobiles to convertibles. He later transferred to California to supervise the company's west-coast operations. When the company went into bankruptcy, Cabanillas remembered Dr. Darm's advice and took a job with Rockwell International. He was involved in a number of projects including such things as designing spacecraft orbits and determining required fuel loads. Eventually that led to work on the Strategic Defense Initiative under the Reagan Administration and a job at Boeing Corp. He also worked on the Space Shuttle program in the return to flight stage after the Columbia accident in 2003.


But of all his space-related projects, the program of which he is the proudest is his work developing Global Positioning Satellite systems. He spent three years at Cape Canaveral assisting in the launching GPS satellites. "When it first started there were obvious applications for the military. Today it's become the de-facto way in which people find their way around the world."


Now working for Northrop Grumman Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif., Cabanillas is the lead space vehicle systems engineer on the LCROSS program. The project is designed to crash the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket into the moon causing an explosion of material from the surface of a crater. Instruments aboard the satellite will analyze the plume for the presence of ice. The satellite then will fly through the plume on a collision course with the lunar surface. Both impacts will be visible to Earth and lunar-orbiting instruments. The project is expected to be launched by the end of 2008.


When he isn't working, Cabanillas and his wife, Karen, love to take advantage of the California outdoors. Cabanillas also has been a docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, a position he hopes to return to when he retires.


Retirements and their impact on the space program are an issue that concerns Cabanillas. "The aerospace workforce is getting very gray and we're worried there will be a lack of talent available when my generation retires." He has offered to visit UNF when possible to speak to classes about career opportunities in aerospace.


He acknowledges Dr. Darm was correct when he encouraged him to consider aerospace careers when he graduated. He hopes students of a new generation will take his advice to do the same. "It's one of those businesses in which you can do amazing things."