Next Stop: Space

May 01, 2014

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.”

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