Space is the place for Oak Park-River Forest grad
Aerospace engineering design winner Benjamin Parks (center) with his brother Ian and his mother Susan. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 15, 2012 10:03AM
OAK PARK — Oak Park native Benjamin Parks grew up with rockets on his mind, and now, he’s making them his profession.
Parks led his space design team at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to a second-place win in this year’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics competition.
Parks’ team came in second in the contest to design a mission in a microgravity space environment, such as Mars. The students had to plan a 15-month mission, taking a six-person crew six months to arrive at their destination and eight months to return, plus a month spent in an orbiting habitation module.
“It was a pretty big project,” said Parks, who graduated from Oak Park-River Forest High School in 2006 as a Scholarship Cup recipient. “We had to select rocket carriers for our payload and create the structure we were going to use, focusing everything needed to support crew life, keeping in mind microgravity, thermal problems, radiation and other factors.
“It took a lot of Red Bull,” he added with a laugh.
Parks, who graduated from the university with honors in aerospace engineering, recently landed his first job in the aerospace industry. He recalled how he “often got a recount of the Apollo moon landing instead of a standard bedtime story” as a kid and spent family vacations with his parents, Robert and Susan, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
He also recalled early practice as a kid sending up bottle rockets with payloads of insects strapped on for the ride.
Working in the space program wasn’t always a forgone conclusion, he said, but he knew in high school he was headed for a career in science technology. He realized he didn’t want “to be working on something like a tractor motor, something that’s really terrestrial.”
“I wanted to do something a little more out there,” he said. “It was pretty hard to imagine something that could compare to working on a Saturn 5 rocket.”
Parks said his primary goal is to work on rocket launches in mission control, with an emphasis on engineering systems.
“At the end of they day, they’re the ones actually driving the space ship,” he said, adding that he likes the idea of commanding something that orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.”
That might even be more exciting than shooting off bottle rockets with bugs attached as a boy in Oak Park.