Trailblazer of the Week

Joshua Wood

12 February 2021

For Joshua Wood, every space mission is unique and challenging. As Lockheed Martin’s Spacecraft Manager for the Lunar Trailblazer mission, Wood is leading the Lockheed Martin team on development, integration, test, and launch of the Lunar Trailblazer spacecraft. His focus is on ensuring that the cost and schedule are met, and that the team has the right resources to be successful in executing the mission.

“Figuring out how to take all the pieces that make up a mission and getting them to work together to achieve a scientific goal is like a giant puzzle,” he says. “It’s very rewarding when you see it all come together and be successful. I enjoy tackling the challenges that are part of deep space exploration.”

Even as a child, aerospace made a significant impact on Wood’s life. Both of Wood’s parents were in the Air Force, so while he was born in Alaska, he actually moved around quite a bit. By the time he was in the fourth grade, his parents had both retired from the military. He has been in Colorado ever since, and recalls how one childhood pastime in particular influenced his path toward a career in STEM.

“I spent a lot of time playing with legos - and still do!” says Wood. “They are an incredible toy, allowing you to create whatever you can imagine. I designed many different spacecraft and rockets in lego form as a kid, working through various forms and functions.”

Wood later attended the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). While he really wanted to go to MIT, his family unfortunately couldn’t afford the tuition. Thankfully, CSM was a very close second on his list.

“Ultimately, I’m glad I went to CSM,” Wood says. “I loved the small-school atmosphere - my graduating class was smaller than my high school graduation!”

While in school, Wood would snowboard a lot on the weekend. It was his studies, though, that proved to be the real black diamond. He now shares how college opened his eyes to accepting and learning from failure.

“I breezed through high school and was valedictorian, so I really never experienced failure until my first year of college, where I proceeded to fail Physics 101,” Wood recalls. “I had taken physics in high school and thought I knew everything, and was proven very wrong by my college professor. I was very humbled by the experience, and learned to accept that hard work does pay off.”

Wood has certainly followed through on this insight. Since graduating from college, he has now worked on over 10 NASA missions.

“Starting back on Mars Odyssey, which is still going strong on the red planet, I’ve also had the pleasure of working on Stardust, Genesis, Spitzer, MRO, Phoenix, GRAIL, OSIRIS-REx, Orion, and currently lead Janus in parallel with Lunar Trailblazer,” he says.

Prior to taking on the Janus and Trailblazer missions, Wood was the Chief Engineer for the Deep Space Exploration division of Lockheed Martin. Just when he thought his role couldn't get any better, Wood was given the chance to take on Janus, a mission investigating a binary asteroid system. Both Janus and Lunar Trailblazer represent a new class of NASA mission: the SmallSat. According to Wood, these small spacecraft are performing big decadal science and offered an opportunity to really do something entirely new and different.

“But that’s what makes it fun,” says Wood. “It’s a brand new type of puzzle on how to squeeze the most out of these pint-sized spacecraft.”

While Lunar Trailblazer has some very unique spatial challenges, it’s pushing the boundaries of what is achievable for a SmallSat. Wood believes there are major advantages to scaling down a spacecraft’s size.

“The thought of taking these SmallSat components that are more appropriate for use in Low Earth Orbit and using them to do big science really inspired me,” he says. “We had a lot of success on Janus, and when Trailblazer’s PI Bethany Ehlmann put out a call for needing a new spacecraft bus, I saw it as a great opportunity to demonstrate the flexibility of the architecture to handle a variety of mission types.”

In his spare time, Wood spends time with family and balances his adventure streak. He used to race cars on the weekend—until he rolled one at the track. Since then, he’s been a bit more “grounded” in his activities.

“I love spending time with the family,” Wood says. “My daughter and I love to go on hikes and adventures outdoors, and my son and I do mixed martial arts, where we are both black belts now. My wife and I met back in high school, and really are the best of friends.”

Wood recalls that during high school he also met some discouragement when it came to pursuing his career in aerospace.

“In high school, I was told that aerospace was a dead career path with no future, and that I should go a different direction, and now I’m leading two great missions!” he says, flipping the script again on the nature of failure. “Don’t be afraid to fail - everyone fails eventually, and everyone will still accept you afterwards. And don't feel like you have to have the best answer all the time - often times it’s best to make a decision and move forward, even if you don’t know if it’s the best option or not; the time spent noodling on which option is best can usually be better spent actually implementing any of them.”

As Spacecraft Manager, implementation is exactly what Wood finds most thrilling about the Lunar Trailblazer mission and its potential to really advance both human and robotic exploration on the Moon. He believes finding and mapping the Moon’s water-ice sources will be the key to this endeavor, and may even lend itself to potential habitation beyond the surface of our lone lunar neighbor.

“I want Lunar Trailblazer to find the vast reservoirs of water-ice on the Moon that are critical for permanent human laboratories on the surface,” Wood explains. “Water is critical to enable In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), which is necessary to really enable permanent habitation of the Moon. And once we can prove out the Moon, Mars is a hop, skip, and jump away for humanity.”

Until then, Wood remains inspired by humanity’s promise of scientific progress.

“We will literally rewrite textbooks with the science that comes back from these missions,” says Wood. “We’re helping expand humanity beyond the terrestrial boundaries of Earth, and that’s something I want to see the next generation be able to embrace and push forward on.”

Joshua Wood is Lockheed Martin’s Spacecraft Manager for the Lunar Trailblazer mission and our Trailblazer of the Week!

Trailblazer of the Week is an ongoing series showcasing the diversity of experience and expertise that supports the collective determination of the Lunar Trailblazer mission.

By Emily Felder
Emily Felder is a Pasadena City College student and Caltech intern working on science communication for the Lunar Trailblazer mission.