When she was in middle school, Rachael Tompa turned down her first opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. At the time, Tompa wasn’t much interested in space travel. But by the following year she’d revised her life plan to include “becoming an astronaut” and asked her parents if her family could return. Unfortunately, the Tompas had other summer vacation plans.
Thankfully, Tompa, E/S’14, would only have to wait a few more years to return to the launch site of each and every one of NASA’s human space flights. That’s because she landed her second Northeastern co-op at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, just a couple hours’ drive from the space center. While there, she got her private pilot’s license, the first step to becoming a full-fledged astronaut.
By the time she began researching colleges, Tompa knew her aeronautical dream was something more than an adolescent whim. She looked at a number of institutions with stellar aerospace programs, but she ultimately chose Northeastern because of co-op. “It gave me a good education and a way to see how this education applies,” said Tompa, a mechanical engineering and physics combined major who will graduate Friday at Northeastern’s commencement ceremony at the TD Garden in Boston. “I came in knowing I liked the aerospace and defense industry, but I didn’t know where I fit within that.”