2 years ago
Cara Santucci
Mercury Staff

UTD graduate overcomes obstacles, lives out dream of working for NASA

In fifth grade, a precocious Christina Deoja stood on her tiptoes and pulled down a large book on astrophysics. She didn’t understand any of the words, but she loved looking at the photos.

Twelve years later, Deoja landed the job she had dreamed about since she was 10-years-old.

“I would just stare at pictures of galaxies and I was always outside looking at the stars,” Deoja said. “To me, that was something that was always fascinating.”

Deoja said she originally aspired to become an astronaut.

“I told my parents I wanted to be an astronaut … probably since I was (in) fifth grade,” she said.

About 7 years later, Deoja attended UTD to earn her degree in electrical engineering. She spent her senior year interning at the Johnson Space Center — NASA’s Houston headquarters — following her previous participation in the Texas High School Aerospace Scholars Program. After her internship completed, she went back to school for her final semester.

As graduation approached, Deoja started to worry because she hadn’t heard from NASA with a job offer. A month before she walked the stage, she got the call. Her mother, Sylvia Gallegos, heard the news from her daughter and the whole family celebrated her achievement.

“(Working for NASA) was what she wanted,” Gallegos said. “We never really talked about her working anywhere else. That was going to be the place for her.”

In 2008, Deoja graduated from UTD and moved to Houston to start her job at NASA. She married her college boyfriend, Sam Deoja, in 2011.

Sam first met Deoja when they were working in the Pub. He said their friends noticed how interested Deoja was in NASA and how dead-set she was on becoming an astronaut.

“We (didn’t) know anybody who was that passionate about space,” Sam said.

Deoja is now a test director in the Energy System Test Area in the Power and Propulsion group. She works primarily on testing electrical power and battery systems for NASA’s equipment.

She has been working on Project Morpheus for five years. The focus of the project is on new propulsion and autonomous landing technology for lander vehicles.

She was also assigned to the Orion Program — NASA’s next manned vehicle going into deep space. Earlier this year, Deoja worked on the first flight test in Florida. The flight test was very successful; Deoja said the vehicle landed exactly on the projected target.

Last May, she won the UTD Alumni Achievement Award for graduates under 40 years of age who have a bachelor’s degree from the university. In her keynote speech, Deoja spoke about the failures she experienced back when her job was brand-new. The Morpheus vehicle she’d been working on crashed in its first attempted landing.

“Overcoming failure has been something I’ve learned early on in my career … because space travel is not easy,” Deoja said. “When you’re doing something no one’s tried to do before, you’re going to encounter those setbacks.”

Deoja said the second vehicle the team built has been performing phenomenally. She said she learns something new every day in her job at NASA.

“I still look around sometimes and I’m like, ‘wow I’m really doing what I always wanted to do,’” she said.

Although she has a position as a test director at NASA, Deoja is still interested in other aspects of space travel. Sam said she hasn’t let go of her dream of becoming an astronaut.

“Ten years ago, I would have made fun of her, (but) I don’t make fun of her anymore,” he said. “If she wants to be an astronaut, then she will be an astronaut someday.”