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SPACE TALK

Recent UH Graduate Tells of his Leap from O&G to Aerospace Engineering

07/19/2017 | By Claire Andersen

The core of this boomtown has long been oil and gas, but UH’s focus extends far beyond what is conventionally categorized as energy. SpaceX employee and recent UH graduate Graham Mullings proves just how out-of-this-world energy students can go. 

Mullings, a chemist and mechanical engineer by training, has broken into the highly competitive and fast-paced aerospace industry. Working at SpaceX since January, he is part of the Dragon propulsion team where he is tasked with building flight hardware for a vehicle intended to eventually take American astronauts to the International Space Station.

“It’s a challenging and rigorous program,” Mullings said. “We have high demands for the design, high demands for our technicians, high demands for our engineering team and on the management side to stay ahead of the competition.”

So how did Mullings make the leap from oil and gas to aerospace? As he explains it, aerospace is not as different from oil and gas as some may think. While they have obvious differences, Mullings points out that both industries involve extreme conditions, high pressure and precise details.

“I decided to branch out and the only other industry that lends itself to my skillset for material science and mechanical design for high pressure and high temperature technology is aerospace,” he said.

Mullings received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Trinity University in 2010, after which he worked in research and development at SGS, an oil and gas company located in Houston. After five years of climbing the ranks, he returned to school part time in pursuit of a degree in engineering, which interested him even in his undergraduate career.

As he worked on his master’s degree Mullings also worked at various Houston companies including his own consulting company and a virtual reality startup. It was this work experience that he credits for preparing him to take on a career at SpaceX.

“As an individual, you build your own brand as yourself,” Mullings said. “The reason I got hired on was (due to) my engineering degree and my previous experience, which was designing and working with high-pressure systems.” 

As for the future, Mullings intends to make aerospace his home for the time being. While oil and gas was his first home, aerospace offers him a new thrill that is too fascinating to leave. 

“Aerospace is new and exciting. It’s a challenging and rigorous program, but for an engineer, working at a company like SpaceX is a dream come true,” Mullings said.