Sierra Space, and our parent company, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), love an intern success story. Just look at SNC’s CEO, Fatih Ozmen. He started as an engineering intern for the company 40 years ago! Christopher A. also started as an intern and has seen major growth and success over his past nine years with the company.
We chatted with him to learn about his about his role in a new MOU, participation on Sierra Space’s “MASH” team and how he still finds the time to co-own pizza restaurants, travel to 70 countries and earn his level one sommelier certification.
What is your job title and what department do you work for at Sierra Space?
I am a Sr. Systems Engineer and the Mission Manager for the third Dream Chaser® spaceplane mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract. I primarily work the CRS2 program but also bridged into advanced development and business development to support our low-Earth orbit (LEO) commercialization efforts.
You’ve been with the company for over nine years, starting as an intern. How have you grown professionally over the last decade?
I struggle to quantify my professional growth, but I feel like a completely different person than I was when I started as an intern – though my picture in Outlook is still from my first day. I guess it is a reminder of where I have grown from! In just over nine years, I have had the opportunity to work mainly on CRS2 but in many different roles and have been involved in several of our other pursuits within the advanced development group. I believe I have mostly grown in my ability to be able to see a larger strategic picture of the Dream Chaser product line and have helped to connect dots between different focus areas within Sierra Space.
How has your career morphed from intern to what you currently do?
I am grateful for the opportunities I never imagined and how those put me in positions I never saw on my path when I was getting my degree. I have been afforded opportunities to transition from traditional systems engineering, to regulatory work, to business development and now to management of our third CRS2 mission. It has been anything but a boring nine years and I look forward to what the next nine have in store!
You’ve been credited with securing Sierra Space’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceport Cornwall to establish it as the newest runway for Dream Chaser’s return. Why is that agreement crucial to Dream Chaser missions?
This MOU followed our first feasibility study conducted at an international reentry site location - Spaceport Cornwall. We are seeing strong demand signals from international customers that would warrant reentering Dream Chaser at sites other than the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) in Florida. This MOU lays the groundwork for continued work with Spaceport Cornwall and signals to other parts of the world that Dream Chaser operations are possible within their country.
Are there any similar MOUs in the works?
We are actively discussing initial feasibility studies with several potential spaceports both here in the U.S. and internationally. As mentioned before, some of the main utility of Dream Chaser is the ability to land at different locations per different customer needs. I envision a future where spaceports have niche capabilities that appeal to certain customer sets and thus drive a need to be able to reenter and land Dream Chaser in many locations. Assuming some of the initial feasibility studies yield positive results, we could see other MOUs codified in the future.
You’ve become an active member on Sierra Space’s MASH team. Why is that role so important to you?
For those not aware, within the CRS2 team we have a small group of employees who care about team culture and our workplace. We call ourselves the MASH team, which stands for “making actual stuff happen.” Common to the goal of MASH, I personally care about enjoying where I go to work every day and I view my participation in MASH as a way to shape our workplace positively.
What is your favorite part about working at Sierra Space?
I have enjoyed the diversity of programs and projects I have been able to support in my tenure. It is always exciting to me to be able to think about solutions to the challenges we face in our industry. The people I get to work with also motivate me. There is something refreshing working with others who are similarly motived by the challenge of space exploration.
You also co-own pizza restaurants, Roma Restaurant, in Northern Colorado. How did that opportunity come about?
My parents started the business before I was born and it is actually where they met originally. So, I grew up in the business, working there through high school. My parents expanded to three locations and in 2016 my father approached me about possibly buying them out, so I teamed up with their then regional manager and we officially took over ownership January of 2017. My business partner is in the restaurants day-to-day and I deal with more strategic items, marketing, bookkeeping and such. Occasionally I will work a shift in the kitchen on the line to make sure my skills are not too rusty.
How does your engineering background translate to working at a pizza restaurant?
My engineering background allows me to look at the business differently than many in the sector and to make data driven decisions. It also has enabled me to know what data to collect and how to leverage technology to the benefit of the business.
What is your favorite menu item?
One of our most popular toppings is cream cheese and it is also my favorite. Some are skeptical at first, but I would claim if you like it on a bagel you will love it on a pizza. It is best represented in one of our most popular menu items called the Hot House, which has pepperoni, hot Italian sausage, cream cheese, red onion and pineapple.
If you could travel to space with someone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My dad! I am an only child and my dad and I have a tradition of going on a ‘boys’ trip each year. Recently this has turned into more high adventure activities such as summiting Kilimanjaro and Everest Basecamp. It seems fitting a trip to space could be our next adventure!
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
I have three main passions outside of work: travel, cooking and winemaking.
I have had the opportunity to travel to over 70 countries and all seven continents thus far in my life and I am always looking for my next international adventure. COVID really put a damper on that this past year, but I was able to go to Iceland with my wife as a much overdue honeymoon.
When I am home, I by far spend most of my time in the kitchen. I love cooking and trying new dishes from all over the world. Sunday mornings usually consist of me at the kitchen table with several cookbooks open looking for inspiration as I menu plan the upcoming week.
A good meal requires good wine and several years ago, I got my level one sommelier certification in order to better appreciate wine and pair with food. It kicked off a somewhat obsessive hobby of making wine from scratch. A friend and I now order in fresh grapes every year from California and go through all the steps - crush, ferment, press, age and bottle. This year we are on track to make 600+ bottles to share with friends and family.
Interested in joining the Sierra Space team? Apply today at sierraspace.com/careers