As a child growing up in Russia, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity junior Timur Starobi­nets dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

But his self-​​described “obses­sion” with inter­galactic travel really took off when he landed a co-​​op with a space-​​transport com­pany in Cal­i­fornia called SpaceX.

SpaceX was working on a rocket called the Falcon 9, hoping to become the first pri­vate com­pany in the world to suc­cess­fully launch a mid-​​to-​​heavy lift rocket into space.

So when the elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering major got the co-​​op, he says, he couldn’t wait to dig into a lot of “high-​​tech design chal­lenges and achieve some­thing that’s never been done before.”

As it turned out, he did just that.

From Jan­uary to June, Starobi­nets designed avionics for space­crafts and rockets, including engine con­trollers and solar panels. He per­formed destruc­tive tests on cir­cuit boards, with an eye toward building next-​​generation tech­nology using the most durable materials.

Working at SpaceX, he says, “helped me under­stand what’s going on behind every com­po­nent of the cir­cuit.” Plus, he felt right at home in the laid-​​back work envi­ron­ment. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (who also cofounded PayPal and Tesla Motors) is “a very relaxed, very down-​​to-​​earth person” who chats openly and easily with employees, Starobi­nets says.

By the end of the co-​​op, the Falcon 9 had lifted off from Cape Canaveral. Starobinets’s fin­ger­prints were all over the suc­cessful launch.

That’s the cool thing,” he says. “Things I was working on were on the first launch or will be on the second—things actu­ally got into space.”

Starobi­nets says this experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity not only gives him a leg up in class, it pre­pared him for entrance into an uncer­tain job market. That’s because SpaceX has offered him a full-​​time posi­tion after he grad­u­ates next year.

One of the best things about this uni­ver­sity is the co-​​op,” says Starobi­nets, who opted for engi­neering at North­eastern over aero­space pro­grams at other uni­ver­si­ties so he could get prac­tical, hands-​​on expe­ri­ence under his belt.

He has also com­pleted co-​​ops as a sys­tems engi­neer at Raytheon, in Marl­bor­ough, Mass., and as a design engi­neer at Advanced Micro Devices, a Boxbor­ough, Mass.–based com­pany that develops com­puter proces­sors for the com­mer­cial and con­sumer sectors.