Young Professionals Advisory Council: Tyler Mason
Tyler Mason’s work life at Lockheed Martin is full-on dedication, hours upon hours in front of a computer, plugging in codes to create an algorithm that gets tested with simulations hoping to expose the system’s weaknesses.
And he actually hopes no one ever has to use it.
Because that’d mean the primary flight software for reentry on Orion, the spacecraft NASA contracted Lockheed Martin to build, failed — and Mason’s backup software had to kick in.
Regardless, it’s quite a first project for Mason, whose interest in human spaceflight was piqued as a 6 year old after visiting a local science museum. He left the museum that day with tiny models of Saturn V and Mercury-Redstone launch vehicles — and started dreaming of working in human spaceflight soon after.
Now, he’s involved in the spacecraft that will play a role in taking Americans back to the surface of the Moon by 2024. The spacecraft that’s projected to deliver the first woman to ever step foot on the lunar surface. The spacecraft that, ultimately, could go well beyond the Moon.
“It’s definitely very, very rewarding to be able to work on a project this large,” Mason said. “You also have to keep in mind you may be working on a smaller piece of puzzle, but without every piece of the puzzle, you’re not going to get a clear picture of what the end goal is. So it’s one of the best achievements that I’ve ever had so far.”
Mason’s official job title is software engineer associate but in the aerospace engineering sense, he’s a guidance, navigation and control engineer. He works on the “brains” of Orion, as he calls it, primarily is concerned with making sure upon reentry the spacecraft doesn’t exceed certain constraints, such as maximum G-loads or maximum aerodynamic heating. To ensure that, he’s working on algorithms to make sure those bounds aren’t exceeded.
It’s an interesting day-to-day for Mason — this new life in coding, and testing the algorithm by running entry simulations to see what different initial conditions affect the final condition — considering he wasn’t exposed to such skills during coursework at Purdue. That’s presented a challenge, essentially learning software development, but he’s found it to be intriguing and gratifying work.
The point of backup flight software is to be completely different than the primary software, so a backup wouldn’t experience a similar kind of failure. While the primary team has dozens, if not 100, workers, he essentially is a one-man show at this point. The reentry software project has been the focus of several other employees at times, offering multiple sets of evaluations, but Mason’s in charge of finishing it out.
And he’s less than one year removed from college.
“I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in, working on what I am,” said Mason, who received his bachelor’s from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2018. “I’m very grateful for what I’ve been prepared for through Purdue and getting this opportunity through Lockheed Martin.”
Mason had an opportunity to share exactly which courses and extracurricular activities helped best prepare him for success post-college with AAE faculty and students on a recent trip back to campus, as part of AAE’s Young Professionals Advisory Council. When he attended AAE, Mason was president of the student advisory council and worked then to help make the School better. So getting involved with YPAC made perfect sense: He was eager to offer feedback on how the student experience can be improved, now with the perspective of industry experience, but also happy to gain insight into the process of change in AAE.
“I just really like being able to assist in any way possible because I feel like feedback is crucial for continuous improvement, and I think Purdue does a good job reaching out to industry members to get feedback on their program,” he said. “It was definitely a very rewarding experience, and I would love to come back and provide even more feedback when I get even more experience out here in industry.”