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
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."
Copyright © 2014 University of North Florida1 UNF Drive | Jacksonville, FL 32224 | Phone: (904) 620-1000
Contact | Emergency | Privacy | RegulationsDisability Accommodations