Engineer from Victoria part of NASA's mission to the sun

Local engineer works on solar probe

(WWBT) - NASA is set to blast into history with the Parker Solar Probe, and a Lunenburg County man helped it get off the ground.

The launch is NASA's first to the sun and Curtis Wilkerson, of Victoria, was part of a team of four system assurance managers that made sure the spacecraft was ready to fly.

Wilkerson has worked on four spacecrafts, and this will be his third time taking a vehicle launch, but the significance of this mission makes the experience a bit surreal.

"No one else has been able to get as close to the sun as we are about to with this mission," Wilkerson said. "It's like, wow, that is only happening because of this spacecraft that I was fortunate about to work on and help build and assemble and test."

For seven years, the spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, will orbit the sun and send back information beneficial to our survival on Earth. Data about space, weather, stars, solar flares and how it impacts satellites and power grids are all things NASA wants to learn on the mission.

For the A&T and Virginia Tech graduate, being at the launch site is an extra special touch that makes the mission more exciting.

"I'll be one of the few to see it go on the launch vehicle and be present for its launch in Florida," Wilkerson said. "You see this huge rocket, fire shooting out of it. I saw these images as a child and I was like I want to do something like that."

Wilkerson got his mantra in life from his mother, Mary Wilkerson, growing up in Victoria and Franklin: Be an inspiration to others.

Mary Wilkerson wants other people to see her son's work and be inspired to follow their own passion.

"I want other kids to be able to see someone like that that had a dream as a kid that was probably told, 'Oh, maybe you should try something else," Mary Wilkerson said. "If you have a dream, you can believe it, you can achieve it. I encourage parents to push them."

Curtis Wilkerson's advice to students is to reach out to people who are doing what you'd love to do.

"Some of the people that I looked up to, I never knew them," Curtis Wilkerson said. "It was just seeing their image, especially African-American men and women, that was inspiring."

Wilkerson said the only way to achieve that dream is to set a goal and develop a plan.

If everything goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will launch Saturday at 3:45 a.m. from Cape Canaveral, FL.

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