SAN JUAN - A simple handshake first helped Hector M. Cerda begin his young career that has now landed him the position of Aerospace Engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“In high school, I was an average kid without any big dreams,” said Cerda. “Now I am helping my group work on a passive thermal project for a new spacecraft where I have to take into account every screw and interface.”

Cerda is the son of humble, hardworking parents, Manuel and Olivia Cerda of San Juan. After graduating from PSJA High School in 2008, he studied mechanical engineering at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA).

He initially struggled with his grades in college, but worked hard to raise his GPA so he could seek opportunities for hands-on engineering experience. During UTPA’s Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week, Cerda and some friends were eating at a local Denny’s when he noticed the uniforms of NASA recruiters a few tables away. Cerda then introduced himself and made a memorable impression.

A month later, he started a three-semester-long internship at the NASA, where he helped design mock-up control consoles for spacecraft monitors, learned how to use robotic software connected to the International Space Station, as well as analyzed the mechanical systems of space rovers.

After Cerda’s internship, he graduated from UTPA with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2014. NASA then gave him to a full-time position in the Mechanical Design & Analysis branch under the Structural Engineering Division at the Johnson Space Center.

Since August of 2014, Cerda has been developing test software for the Orion exploration vehicle, NASA’s next generation spacecraft that will take astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. Named after a prominent constellation, Orion is making several flight tests over the next decade in hopes of carrying the first human explorers to Mars by 2030.

Idolina G. Vela was Cerda’s former principal at PSJA's Carman Elementary, and she recalls that Hector and his brother Oscar were excellent in Mathematics and Science, while working diligently to improve their English.

“Hector is a fine young man and I know he will continue to go far,” said Vela.

 Cerda would like to thank his family for their love and support, as well as all of his educators at PSJA and formerly UTPA, now UT Rio Grande Valley, for their dedication.