How rural Alaska tinkering prepared a SpaceX engineer to launch rockets

Ben Kellie took a brief path from serving to his bush pilot father in Nikiski to launching SpaceX rockets in California. Now he is again working in rural Alaska aviation, however with expertise for know-how innovation he discovered within the business area business.

Kellie rose quickly at SpaceX, overseeing the launch of a brand new era of rocket from a model-new pad that he helped construct. He additionally led the sector workforce constructing the barge the place the corporate famously landed its first rocket for reuse.

His engineering diploma was not as prestigious as some co-staff’ and he stated his grades have been common. However the can-do spirit he discovered in Alaska made him particularly priceless at an upstart area firm with a Kitty Hawk tradition of speedy innovation.

He directed the primary launch, value greater than $one hundred million, on the new pad at Vandenberg Air Pressure Base, on time and efficiently. He was 15 months out of faculty.

“A launch website shouldn’t be a really educational place,” Kellie stated. “The primary issues I delivered to that job are issues I discovered right here.”

His boss appeared to agree.

“Ben is amongst one of the crucial excellent engineers and leaders I’ve labored with in over 1 / 4-century within the area enterprise,” wrote Lee Rosen, SpaceX vice chairman for mission and launch operations, in a LinkedIn suggestion. “He’s distinctive in his rigorous engineering analytic capability mixed with mental curiosity and palms-on, scrappy, get-it-accomplished functionality.”

Though he is now dwelling in Anchorage, Kellie continued engaged on contract with SpaceX as just lately as final month.

Kellie’s father, Mike, additionally had an engineering diploma, however did not use it, as an alternative working a flight service referred to as Air Provide Alaska that delivered cargo to villages round Lake Iliamna and to the west.

Mike was a tinkerer and constructed a hydraulic ski-path groomer. As a teen, Ben dragged it behind a snowmachine on the lake the place they lived.

“My entire life has been engaged on planes, engaged on snowmachines,” Kellie stated. “I feel out of all of it, that has been probably the most helpful factor, that Bush mentality.”

However Kellie additionally got here out of a exceptional crop of teenagers in Nikiski.

Ben Kellie and Nick Kellie (proper) of their workplace within the Boardroom in downtown Anchorage. The brothers’ firm, K2 Dronotics, serves Alaska business in distant places with drones for inspections and mapping, and hopes to develop unmanned plane for making deliveries to rural communities. (Charles Wohlforth / ADN)


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