Harlingen native inspires new generation of aerospace engineers

HARLINGEN — When Humberto “Beto” Sanchez was going to classes at Harlingen High School, he never dreamed that one day he’d be NASA’s “mayhem guy.”

Astronaut training is done as realistically as possible, on decks exactly like those of a spacecraft, and in front of banks of computers the same as those found on the space shuttle and other command modules. The concept is known as “plan, train, fly.”

The theory is that nobody learns anything when everything goes right. Sanchez is there to make sure it never does.

“I was the bad guy,” Sanchez told high school students Friday at the Rio Grande Valley Aerospace Summit. “I was the guy who would break the computer or fail the pumps and set off all these alarms.”

Sanchez laughs as he admits there were times the astronauts and other Mission Control scientists forced to respond to his spur-of-the-moment, false training emergencies did grumble about him a bit.

It’s the only time Beto Sanchez has been the bad guy. He was hired by NASA in 1980 and now works for the Constellation Program, which is developing the astronauts, the spacecraft and the equipment needed to extend space exploration beyond low orbit to the moon and beyond.

That’s a long way from Edcouch, where he was raised. He moved to Harlingen where he graduated from Harlingen High. Later, he attended the University of Texas at Austin and received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering.

His message to the teens studying math and science at Harlingen High, Harlingen South and Texas State Technical College was they can do it, too.

“Being from this area, the main thing I want to say is look, I’m from the Valley and there’s nothing special about me,” Sanchez said. “But I understand the culture we’re in.

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