Since 2012, a Mexican-American engineer has been in charge of NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program, which operates from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California.

The program manager is responsible for the "performance and development effort for everything that will go into the observatory and, ultimately, for the operation and execution of the science," Eddie Zavala told Efe.

"The SOFIA program provides a space where the scientific community can work," the El Paso, Texas, native said.

Zavala first came to NASA's Dryden facility in 1989 as a cooperative education student and returned as an employee in 1991 after earning his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University.

The Texan spent seven years in the Flight Systems division at Dryden before transferring to the Johnson Space Center to work as a space shuttle flight controller.

Back at Dryden two years later, he became manager on the Intelligent Flight Controls, Flight and Systems Demonstrations and Subsonic Fixed Wing projects, a position he held until taking charge of SOFIA in early 2012.

"When I was a boy the first approach I had to NASA was through a mission I saw on television, the Apollo-Soyuz mission," Zavala recalled, referring to the joint U.S.-Soviet space venture in 1975.

"And when I was a little boy, it never occurred to me that maybe I could be an astronaut or could be an engineer, until I saw that report on television," he said. 

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