Illinois News

Sky is the limit for Liberty native at NASA


Submitted Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 2, 2016 9:15 am

HOUSTON -- There is a distinct matter-of-factly fashion heard when Sebastian Francis talks about what he does for a living.

To the untrained ear, much could be lost, simply because of Francis' low-key approach to what already has been an extraordinary career path.

The 24-year-old Liberty High School and John Wood Community College product is in his first year as a trajectory operations and planning officer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- NASA.

Translation: Francis is kind of a big deal, serving as a support agent for the International Space Station.

"It's a fun job," he's quick to say.

Important, too.

Francis works at the Johnson Space Center, where human spaceflight training, research and flight control are conducted. Johnson Space Center is familiar to most as Mission Control, coordinating and monitoring all human spaceflight for the United States.

Not too bad for a guy from a high school with a graduating class of 39.

Francis is proud of his roots and the values he learned growing up in Adams County. He says his story -- which currently has him helping direct American activities aboard the International Space Station -- can serve as an inspiration.

"If you want something, and you have the work ethic, you can get there," Francis said. "A lot of the people I work with can't believe I came from a [rural farming community]."

Following his stay at John Wood, Francis went on to study at Purdue University and graduate as an aerospace engineer. While at Purdue, he had four tours as an intern at Johnson Space Center.

‘Best feeling ?I ever had'

He started full time at the Space Center in January, just 21/2 weeks after graduating from Purdue.

Francis has known where his career was headed in some way, shape or form since he was a child.

"Growing up, space always fascinated me," Francis said. "Black holes were especially interesting."

An occupational survey he took as a freshman at Liberty indicated aerospace engineer would be a good fit. He had always thought he would be an astrophysicist.

"So I took another of the surveys and it also said I should be an aerospace engineer," Francis said.

From that point on, the marriage of Francis and NASA seemed inevitable.

Francis will never forget the first day he walked into the Johnson Space Center as a full-fledged employee.

"It was the best feeling I have ever had," he said.

The Space Center is a complex of 100 buildings constructed on 1,620 acres in the Clear Lake Area of Houston, which has been known as Space City since the late 1960s. The center is also home to NASA's astronaut corps and is responsible for training astronauts from both the U.S. and its international partners.

Approximately 3,200 civil servants work at the Space Center, including 110 astronauts. The majority of the workforce consists of more than 15,000 contractors.

Part of the process

Francis' main concern, the International Space Station, travels at a speed of 17,227 mph and completes 15.54 orbits per day, taking about 93 minutes for each orbit of the earth.

"The space station is about the size of a football field," Francis said.

The ISS is arguably the most expensive single item ever constructed, costing $150 billion, a tab that was shared by the United States, various European countries, Japan and Canada. The United States' share was almost $60 billion.

The ISS is visible from 95 percent of the inhabited portions of Earth, but is not visible from extreme northern or southern latitudes.

Francis hopes to continue building his NASA resume, eyeing the title of certified flight controller, which would bring on more responsibility involving the ISS. That will be a two-year process for him.

Eventually, Francis hopes to work his way to the inner circle of NASA operations, which is actually based in Washington, D.C. He wants to be a part of the select group that "steers NASA's future."

"That's my goal," he said. "I see myself in Washington, D.C."

Poster boy

Francis was one of the first to benefit from JWCC's associate in engineering degree, a program that was launched several years ago for students wishing to pursue careers in engineering and to ensure courses would properly transfer to four-year universities. One of those students was Francis.

JWCC's Associate in Engineering Science program is front loaded with high-level math, chemistry and physics courses.

"Science was a strong suit for me, but I felt like I needed to improve my math skills, and the [JWCC] professors helped me do that," Francis said. "Obviously, the instruction is top notch, or Purdue wouldn't have accepted me as a transfer student."

The JWCC program for which Francis is a poster boy has continued to grow. There will be eight graduates this month and 13 more coming behind them.

Doing something ‘big'

As expected, any type of position connected with NASA or any other high-level government position comes with a certain amount of built-in stress. Francis knows and expects that.

"There are days my brain hurts," he said.

Surprisingly, Francis has learned to be wary of the fine line between overworked and enough free time to successfully catch his breath.

"It's a demanding position, but, at the same time, I have been taught to realize the importance of ‘life balance,'" he said.

Francis, who is the first member of his family to graduate from college, has never had a problem keeping a proper balance in his life. That's where the strong core values of his small-town roots come into play.

"Just because I come from something small doesn't mean I can't do something big," Francis said.

Things to Do

Sign up for Email Alerts