Kevin J. DeBruin Smiling

I want to introduce you to the man that is known for “bringing space down to Earth”. Kevin J. DeBruin is a former Rocket Scientist at NASA, a Space Educator, Author, and Speaker, and I’m super excited to have him here on The Novel Turtle. Kevin has faced many, many obstacles in pursuing his dream life, but he persevered through it all. He is living proof, that if you want something badly enough, and you’re willing to work hard to get it, you can accomplish your dreams – no matter how out of this world they are.

When you encounter difficulties or failures, do not take no for an answer. If you truly want to accomplish something and are passionate about it, you need to believe in yourself, put your mind to it, and you can accomplish anything!” – Kevin J. DeBruin

In an effort to share his love for space, and his passion for helping others to learn: For the next few weeks, while schools are out due to the current events, Kevin is doing a LIVE Space Class on YouTube, every weekday morning at 9 a.m. PST. The class is geared for kids that are in grades 1-5, but older kids and adults will enjoy it too. He wants to give those of us who are stuck at home, the chance to learn something fun, without having to go anywhere to do so. In these classes, Kevin teaches everything from “How to Become an Astronaut”, to “Moons of the Solar System”. Be sure to subscribe to “A Place Called Space”, and click to receive notifications, so you’ll know when he’s about to go live.

Let’s get to know Kevin a little better:

1) For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about the story of how you came to work at NASA, and how you got to where you are today.

This is quite a long story, which I’ve captured in a memoir titled To NASA & Beyond available on Amazon and Audible. Here’s the short version! I was inspired by watching the movie October Sky when I was 10-years old. I knew at that moment I wanted to design spaceships for NASA. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where there wasn’t much care for outer space, so I got laughed at when I said I was going to work for NASA. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin: Platteville majoring in Mechanical Engineering. While there, I applied to over 150 NASA internships over the course of three years until I finally got one. While co-oping at NASA Langley Research Center I realized I didn’t have the necessary education to work at NASA full time, so graduate school was a must. Georgia Tech was on the only place I applied to because it was the only lab in the country that does aerospace systems design the way they do it. I applied, but was rejected. About 3 weeks later though, I was accepted and a week after that I received a Graduate Research Assistantship which paid for all my tuition and gave me a stipend to do research. In my last few months at Georgia Tech before graduating with a Masters in Aerospace Engineering, I went through three rounds of interviews with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) only to be not given the job. I took a risk, graduated without a job and took a 10-week internship to prove to them I belonged. I had 30 interviews over that time and on the last day of the internship I was told I was going to be hired as a full time NASA Rocket Scientist.

(Kevin recently released a video on Instagram talking more about the challenges that he turned into opportunities. Watch that, here.)

2) What are some of the biggest steps that you had to take to get hired
on at NASA? (I know there were probably many hoops to jump through, but what is the basic process.)

It’s basically showcasing your ability to them in a concrete way. The best way is through internships. Getting an internship first allows them to see your work first hand and build a relationship with them. I didn’t have that with NASA JPL when applying for a job initially. I advise going to a college to get an advanced degree that has research connections with NASA in the area you’re interested in. First step internship, second step crush that internship and network, third step apply for full time job. Oh, and graduating with advanced degrees in good standing of course.

3) What does a rocket scientist do in their day-to-day work?

It’s a combination of alone time on the computer coding or analyzing data, being in a lab performing hands-on research, having brainstorming & design sessions with others, and regular meetings to provide status updates and stay on track. I had my own office where I did a lot of computer coding to build simulations and computer models. We would use those models during our brainstorming & sessions to help out.

4) What was the best experience you had while working at NASA?

It’s not just one instance, but a time period. My work on the Europa Lander team was by far my best experience. Working side-by-side such elite individuals to design a lander to land on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa was exhilarating. I hope it gets fully funded and completed one day.

5) You seem like a pretty self-motivated person to begin with, but when
you were up against some of your biggest challenges, how did you keep
yourself on track? How did you keep yourself moving towards your dreams, instead of giving up on them?

I would re-watch the movie October Sky. It is my “why” and I needed to remind myself of it often. It got tough and I would forget about why I got into it in the first place or lose focus on what the end goal was. Watching the movie again help to refuel the tank and reignite that motivation. Also, a BIG one is working out, yes exercise. Clearing my mind with fitness and be able to disconnect from the stress for a bit really is what allowed to me stay on track, release some endorphins to feel good, and keep pressing in the difficult times. This is probably the most asked question and it really boils down to truly knowing your “why” and finding strategies to cope with stress.

6) What is your favorite thing about what you do?

As a Space Educator, my favorite thing is being able to inspire others and teach them something they didn’t know before. Sharing the wonders of space exploration and its importance to use here on Earth is a rewarding experience. 

7) What made you decide to write a book?

It came from two sources. The first of which was me just wanting to document my journey. I did a blog while I was interning at NASA Langley (which actually is one of the chapters in my book word-for-word) and thought it would be a cool thing to have to show my to kids someday. The second being that I started to get asked my story so often that I saw a book as a good way to collect that information for others to learn more.

8) How important do you think it is for people to find what they are
passionate about doing, and do it?

I think we all long to feel good about what we are doing. To be able to do what we are passionate about, gives us that strong feeling of fulfillment and purpose. The Japanese call is Ikigai, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s a combination of the 4 P’s: Purpose (What are you good at), Profit (What can you get paid for), Problems (What the world needs), and Passion (what you love). The intersection of those 4 elements will allow you to truly live life.

Kevin J. DeBruin being goofy.

9) Who have been some of your biggest inspirations, and why?

My mother and my brother are the biggest ones. Unconditional love and support for all of my desires. Also witnessing their demeanor and what they had to go through showed me I could get through anything.

10) How do you define creativity?

Thinking differently – that being completely new thoughts or being able to combine things in a way that hasn’t been done before, like to be able to see things in a new light. When I think creatively, I think of a unique way to express an idea or complete a task that has never been done before.

11) What is your favorite planet?

Earth of course! It’s the only place with life as we know it right now. I actually find the moons of the solar system much more interesting than the planets. Favorite moons would be Europa, Titan, Enceladus, Io, and Triton.

Kevin J. DeBruin in front of Europa.
Kevin J. DeBruin in front of Europa, his favorite moon.

12) Is all of the space education that you do geared towards kids, or do
you do adult programs as well?

All ages. It depends mainly on the platform and content. Most of my in-person events are for kids such as space camps, but some have been for young adults, adults, and mature adults. I’ve spoken at TEDx and on a stage in Istanbul for 6,000+ people. My YouTube is directed at the youth and my Instagram is ~18-34 years old. Most of my education consulting is for adults as well.

13) What do you think about the future of space exploration, where we’re going and how important it is to keep doing it in general?

The future is looking good with a combination of public and private companies working together to advance space exploration. I’m excited for what the future holds. Continuing space exploration is important for us here on Earth, though many do not think they relate. My TEDx talk ‘Without Space We Die’ is about this. Technology from space exploration actually saves lives here on Earth, from medical treatments to disaster relief efforts, space is critical in our everyday life on Earth.

14) Do you believe in aliens?

I do not believe any have visited us here on Earth. I believe that there was, is, or will be another intelligent life somewhere, sometimes. Humans as a species have only been around for ~200,000 years. Earth is ~4.5 billion years old. The observable universe is ~14 billion years old. We’re just a blink on that timescale, so I believe at some point in time there was/is/will be aliens.

15) What is the best way for people to contact you?

My YouTube Channel: A Place Called Space

My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kevinjdebruin/

My Website: www.kevinjdebruin.com

My Email: kevin@kevinjdebruin.com 

To read Kevin’s entire story, get his book To NASA and Beyond: Perseverance to Achieve the Impossible. Be sure to subscribe to “A Place Called Space” on YouTube, to get notifications for his new videos. For more information on how to book Kevin to speak at your event, visit his website, or email him directly.

Thank you Kevin, for joining us, and for all that you’re doing to “bring space down to Earth”! You are an inspiration to people everywhere.

Read the related post for more on “How to Find Your Why”.