Magazine Feature / People

DU alumnus shoots for (and hits) the stars

Few can say they were flying before they were driving.

Meet Thomas Jasin (MS electrical engineering ’73). By age 14, he had already flown solo, two full years before he got his student driver’s permit.

“Ever since I can remember I loved everything about aviation: the sights, the smells and the sounds,” he says.

Turns out, it was President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon that ignited his passion.

“The era of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were exciting times to anyone who had aviation fuel running though their veins,” he says.

So perhaps it’s no surprise Jasin has ended up as a respected executive at NASA. In fact, last June he earned NASA’s 2008 Outstanding Leadership Medal, the first time the honor has been awarded to an aerospace employee.

And he’s been recognized for his work directing the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, a massive project that will include a series of robotic missions to the moon starting this year to pave the way for human exploration missions to the moon and ultimately to Mars and beyond.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says Jasin’s contributions were “innovative and invaluable.”

Jasin recalls that in elementary school he spent a lot of time building model airplanes and doodling popular airplanes and his notions of new aircraft designs.

“I must have built a hundred models, beginning with rubber band-powered airplanes and eventually graduating to large, radio-controlled models,” Jasin says.

As a teenager he joined the Civil Air Patrol, where he would hang around after his official duties to wash and wax airplanes in return for flying instructions.

A few years later he got a private pilot license, followed by a commercial pilot license. And he worked his way through college as a charter pilot and as a co-pilot for Hilton Hotels and David Jansen, the lead actor in the television series “The Fugitive.” By age 23, Jasin had logged 3,000 hours in the air.

His first job after college was at the Martin Marietta Corp. in Denver, where he worked on space-related assignments, including the Viking Mars Lander, Titan launch vehicles, space shuttle design and classified projects.

Jasin also helped design and build avionics systems for the Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and F-15 fighters.

He credits the University of Denver for much of his professional success.

“I would not have experienced a gratifying career had it not been for DU.”

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