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Apollo's Next Generation: How NASA And A Father Encouraged An Interest In Space And Engineering

Phil Metzer (center) and father Theodore (left) climb the lunar lander mock-up at Kennedy Space Center's family day. Photo: Metzger Family
Phil Metzer (center) and father Theodore (left) climb the lunar lander mock-up at Kennedy Space Center's family day. Photo: Metzger Family

Growing up watching rocket launches and with a father working at NASA, Phil Metzger was himself launched into a career of studying space and launching rockets. He sat with Brendan Byrnes to talk about how his father influenced him to become an engineer for NASA.

Theodore Metzger, Phil Metzger's father, worked in logistics at NASA, helping maintain ground system parts and rocket parts. Because of his dad's work, he grew up in a bedroom community surrounded by families who were involved with NASA.

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Metzger plays with one of many space-themed toys at his home on Florida's Space Coast. Photo: Phil Metzger[/caption]

"I grew up thinking this is what you do when you're an adult: work on space programs. I remember I built paper models of satellites and I remember going out to the open house of the Kennedy Space Center whenever they had a family day."

Theodore Metzger dreamed that his son would become an engineer, which he later did. Phil Metzger's first job out of college was as a spacecraft systems engineer at NASA. He says the illusion of perfect rocket launches he imagined as a kid was challenged by the amount of detail and work needed to have a successful launch. While his first rocket launch was successful, he recalls working at the agency during the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew.

"Trying to manage a program where you're operating the most complex thing humanity has ever built; it's never going to be free of risks. There's always going to be those- well, as long as we're humans, y'know, maybe when we create better artificial intelligence we can make rocket launching perfect. But it's the nature of rocket launching- its an overused phrase but, space is hard. So, that is what I saw, when I was first hired there, I realized 'Wow, space really is hard.'"

Metzger worked for NASA over a span of 29 years and obtained a PhD in physics in 2005. He left NASA in 2014 and is now a Planetary Scientist at the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida. He works with graduate students developing research about space. He believes his father would be very proud of him for "still working in space and celebrating what he did 50 years ago."

Education reporting on 90.7 News is supported by Helios Education Foundation.