The Air Up There Podcast
Find Your Place In Space

Season 6, Episode 10
Published:

What if your career not only fulfilled your ambitions but launched them into orbit? That’s what happened to our guest, Rachita Puri, an aerospace engineer in the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

In this episode, Rachita shares how a job fair at her university led her to the FAA, where she enjoys a rewarding career ensuring public safety during human space flights, rocket launches and reentries. She details how her position affords her out-of-this-world experiences, including witnessing her first ever space launch in person that left her with goosebumps. 

Tune in to hear about a day in the life of Rachita, an aerospace engineer, who talks about her insights on the future of space travel, the importance of having diverse people involved in aerospace, and her valuable advice for aspiring space professionals. There are so many ways to make an impact in space. 

The FAA plays a crucial role in space safety through its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which has cool career opportunities and initiatives. Share this episode to help spread the word to anyone interested in aerospace or who may be unsure about a career path. There may just be a place in space at the FAA for them.

Meet Our Guest:  
Rachita Puri is an Aerospace Engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation in Washington D.C., where she leads the safety authorization for space launches and reentries. She also serves as the FAA's licensing liaison to government partners including NASA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Department of State. Rachita holds a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from The Ohio State University, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Science and Technology at The George Washington University. In her free time, Rachita volunteers with the Space Generation Advisory Council to reach youth.
 
Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service. 
 

Podcast cover-Find your place in space
Find Your Place In Space
Audio file

00:00
Ever since I can remember I've wanted to become an astronaut. I think it's people, some really impactful people in my life. One of these people was Dr. Kalpana Chawla. She was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space and just being able to see someone who hailed from very near my hometown, going into space. And that just made such a strong impression on me. You know, if she can do it, I can also do the same. 

00:30
Lucy Jabbour: That’s Rachita Puri, an aerospace engineer who works at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

00:37
Terria Garner: And she’s our guest. We’re your hosts. I’m Terria Garner. 

00:40
Lucy Jabbour: And I’m Lucy Jabbour – and this is The Air Up There!

00:44 
Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.  

01:16
Lucy Jabbour: When you think of the Federal Aviation Administration, you probably think of airplanes and aviation, because, well, it’s in the name. But the FAA also plays a role in space safety.

01:27
Terria Garner: The FAA provides oversight of commercial space transportation launches and reentries. This includes things like inspections, monitoring countdown procedures, and licensing.  

01:39
Lucy Jabbour: Yes, and our guest today just happens to be a licensing lead. The FAA Command Center also plays a role by closing and reopening the airspace and rerouting aircraft for launches and reentries to keep everyone on the ground and in the air safe.

01:54
Terria Garner: What about your job gets you out of bed? 

01:57
Rachita Puri: We're launching rockets every week, sometimes twice a week here. It's such an exciting thing to wake up to knowing that we're playing a part in making this happen. Sending up rockets to space. It's definitely a big deal. I was very fortunate last year, within my role at the FAA, I had a chance to watch my first launch in person. And that does give you goosebumps just standing there and hearing the countdown, you know, the 10, nine, eight, all the way down. It's, it's incredible and so, having opportunities like that just are that are so exciting. And I see the impact in real time of the work I'm doing is very motivating.

02:42
Terria Garner: Your dream job as a kid was an astronaut. Is that still like your dream job? Or is what you're doing now what you’re excited about?

02:52
Rachita Puri: Growing up, I learned the difference between a job and you know, the dream. The dream is still to go to space and I'd love to become an astronaut and really go out there. That's just the biggest adventure. And choosing what to study, and how do I get to space, you know. I stumbled upon aerospace engineering and I found that to be really cool. And it really helped me learn how you get to space and then even in my role here at the FAA, as an aerospace engineer, now I'm actually making that happen. I'm enabling the space industry to send these rockets with astronauts up to space. There's so many ways to make an impact.

03:32
Lucy Jabbour: How did you end up at the FAA? 

03:34
Rachita Puri: I was able to do some internships, which helped me see what I was learning and how it applies. So, all of that eventually led me to a career fair at my university, where we had representatives from the FAA. And the funny thing is, you hear FAA, and you think, oh, it's aviation. So, for me, when I walked up to the FAA table, they asked me if I was interested in rockets or planes, and I was surprised, but in a good way, because I love rockets. And they told me I was at the right place. So that’s kind of what started it all. And then I ended up right after graduating, I started working here at the FAA, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which not many people, including me had known about before. 

04:24
Lucy Jabbour: I'm glad you brought up the job fair too, because the FAA does host a lot of those. Tell us like what a day is like for you. Like, what do you do here, right?

04:32
Rachita Puri: Great question. It took me some time to learn that. Essentially, we're ensuring that rockets are not falling on your homes or your backyards, right. It's about ensuring public safety when it comes to space. Space is very new, especially commercial space, but that's also what makes it so exciting. At a day-to-day basis, I'm working on completely different things. It's always a new challenge, a new problem and so, things can vary a lot. Right now, when you launch a rocket, it needs to fit in with the existing global framework. There's planes flying. We have boats in the water. So, all of this has been existing and space is the new player. So, we have to make sure that it fits in, and it does so in a way that's sustainable and safe for everyone.  

05:20
Lucy Jabbour: Do you work with human spaceflight?  

05:22
Rachita Puri: I primarily focus on missions that do have a human spaceflight component and because of that, I am the licensing lead for the Dragon missions that have NASA astronauts and private astronauts going up to space. But then also, I'm the licensing lead for Blue Origin’s new Shepard Rocket. That's been taking up a lot more just space tourists. 

05:43
Lucy Jabbour: If you told me as a kid, people would ride on a rocket as tourists. I would be like, yeah, okay. 

05:49
Rachita Puri: That sounds like a dream, right? 

05:52
Lucy Jabbour: Yeah, and now we're actually seeing it happen.

05:52
Rachita Puri: The first mission I ever worked on was the NASA Crew One mission, which sent up the US astronauts back up to space on a US spacecraft. So that was a very exciting moment. And, but since that time, we've seen so much change happen and that's also triggered how we view the definitions of crew versus spaceflight participant versus space tourists so differently. I'll just throw in, when I was at the International Space University, this summer I had a chance to meet one of the newer astronauts, Dr. Sian Proctor. She was onboard the Inspiration Four mission that went up to space for a few days, and it was the first private astronaut mission. So, it's very exciting to meet her, but also just inspiring, because you know, she represents what the future of space can look like. You know, she was someone that also helped me see, oh, I can go to space, because she's not a traditional government astronaut. We've seen people who are 18 years and the oldest people going to space. So, there's just really no definition of, you know, what you should look like, how old you should be where you come from, your background. None of that matters. 

07:08
Terria Garner: As a black woman myself, to see other black and brown women who are in this space kind of lights my fire. How important do you think your role is, in this position, to be an inspiration to other black and brown girls and boys?

07:25
Rachita Puri: Being a part of something that's beyond all of this; Space is just such a mystery, it's so exciting. And it's by bringing in people who bring different perspectives and come from different backgrounds that we can really go out and explore it to the fullest extent. You know, beyond anything we've imagined so far. And it’s so, so important to have faces that you can identify with.

07:54
Lucy Jabbour: What would you what would you like, to like, as a message, leave with people like young people who maybe are aspiring to take a look at a career in aerospace?

08:01
Rachita Puri: You know, space is hard. It's meant to be something that's challenging. We don't have all the answers yet. But my message would be that you can figure out those answers. Space is for everyone. Space can look like however you want it to be and it's not off limits. Plunge in, take that leap. You can do it. It’s not impossible. It’s not to become an aerospace engineer, rocket scientist, astronaut. Any of these professions.

08:34
Commercial Space Education PSA: Do you dream about space travel? The time is now to find your place in space. The U.S. commercial space transportation sector has a demand for aerospace professionals. Start your plan now by studying science, technology, engineering and math. The FAA can help you through our STEM Aviation Education program. Learn how you can shape the future of space. Go to faa.gov/education.

09:04
Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out faa.gov/podcasts. Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out on new episodes. Coming up, in the next episode of The Air Up There...

09:22
Karen Perez: What do you think is the most exciting experience you've had as a student in your school?

09:27
Isabella Onyskin: The discovery flight I went on. That was my first time ever doing a flight in such a small plane. Our principal took me and three other students up in a Diamond DA40. So, we got to do like a 45-minute trip and just fly.

09:42
Karen Perez: So, you took the actual controls? 

09:044
Isabella Onyskin: Yes. 

09:46
Karen Perez: That's so awesome.

09:47
Isabella Onyskin: That's when I knew I wanted to be a pilot.