UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When the space shuttle Discovery launched Dec. 9 for a scheduled mission to the International Space Station, a western Pennsylvania “farm boy” had a ringside seat.
It may seem like Slade Peters has come a long way, both metaphorically and geographically, from the northwest Pennsylvania farm where he grew up, to NASA at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where he now works. But Peters doesn’t see it that way – science is science.
Similarities. The recent Penn State graduate in agricultural and biological engineering grew up near Meadville, Pa., where his family milks about 170 Jersey cows that are bred to supply the maximum volume of milk – in fact, it was recently judged the top-producing herd of its size in Pennsylvania.
“My dad understands it is all about genetics,” Peters said.
He also worked at his uncle’s nearby heat-treat shop, where they harden metal parts for many types of manufactured equipment.
“The business has contracts with the U.S. Navy, the aerospace industry and the automotive industry among others – we covered all facets of machinery,” said Peters.
Now a fluid systems test engineer with NASA who troubleshoots the orbital maneuvering system and the spacecraft’s reaction-control system, Peters sees clearly that his earlier jobs and education prepared him well for his high-tech vocation.
Farm foundation. “Being involved with machinery started on the farm,” he said. “Every summer I went home and did the maintenance on the equipment, and it transitioned into this.
“Actually, I started out in electrical engineering at Penn State Erie, then two weeks into my junior year at University Park I made the switch to ag and bio engineering and everything just fell into place,” Peters adds.
“The difference between electrical and ag and bio engineering is astronomical. Electrical just seemed all theoretical, and ag and bio engineering was more applied – hands-on. I liked it a lot better.”
“Ag and bio engineering is not just geared toward agriculture,” Peters said. “Other graduates are working on Apache helicopters, at NASA, as food engineers at Hershey, and as soil and water experts in the private and governmental sectors.
“It’s such a broad major, and you can apply it to the real world in many different ways.”
Still loves cows. But despite getting what he calls the chance of a lifetime to work on the space shuttle at NASA, Peters’ heart is still on the farm in Crawford County.
“I still love dairy farming,” he admits. “For sure, I am going to pursue this opportunity, but when I get the time off, I’m still going to love going home and being with the cows.
“I love the farm lifestyle. That probably won’t ever change.”
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