"It's great to work in such an exciting field of exploration and exploration of the universe to do it from a coastal community."
David Pierce watched as Cygnus spacecraft launched last week, carrying supplies and scientific experiments for the International Space Station.
"It never gets tired. We've had 5,000 people at the Initiation Visitor Center; a huge crowd. It's always exciting," said Pierce, who assumed the post of Director of NASA's GSFC Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's east coast on April 1st.
It was a flawless start, but this came with an unlikely twist for a native of Onslow County.
Pierce doesn't know NASA's astronaut Christina H. Koch, but at this launch from the Wallops Flight Facility Supply she reached a space station where Koch, who also grew up in Jacksonville, is a crew member. They spent two years in elementary school at the same school, the Christian School in Prague, although at a different time.
While their role with NASA is different, Pierce is not surprised by their career paths intersecting in Jacksonville.
Pierce found inspiration in many places growing up in the community where his father served in the Marine Corps.
He was born in Camp Lejeune in 1963 and his parents bought a house on Cheyenne Road in the Northwoods area. It is where he was raised along with his six siblings, attending IOP until 8th grade and then Northwoods Park and Jacksonville Senior High School.
He and all his siblings gave The Daily News and he had his first route when he was 9 years old.
"Bobby Williams was there (through the circulation) and we carried big Daily News bags on our routes," Pierce reminded.
He worked in the old Luigi restaurant as a teenager and suddenly completed an internship with Mike Ellzey, who was then an urban engineer.
As the 10th grader at Jacksonville Senior High School, a mathematics teacher on his way solidified his desire to pursue a mechanical engineering career.
"When I got into high school, I had Steve Mozing in the 10th grade of mathematics and I would recommend that I consider engineering," Pierce said. "I started to examine it and decided for aviation technology. I've always loved airplanes and rockets. "
Pierce always liked to watch a plane commonly seen around the military community, and as a child he had to look at the start of Apollo 11.
There are many memories of Jacksonville.
"I think it's strange about Jacksonville that nobody said NASA wasn't working," Pierce said. "Jacksonville taught us to work hard and make great dreams."
And he was always supported by his parents.
"My mother always encouraged me to work hard and love learning," he said.
Growing up in Jacksonville helped build a foundation for hard work and determination, but interest in engineering was always there.
"I think I've been on the road that wanted to be an engineer since I was 8 to 23," Pierce said.
Pierce earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from North Carolina State University in 1986 and a master's degree in engineering from the University of Virginia in 1994.
He started at NASA, who worked at Wallops Flight Facility Aircraft Programs and served as an aviation engineer who modified research aircraft to meet the needs of the aerospace community and then served as a mission manager in aerial field campaigns around the world.
Pierce's career included duties in other facilities, including NASA's Washington headquarters and Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas, but spent most of his career in various positions at Wallops.
One of his priorities now is to help the director to encourage students to achieve their goals, as others have been a mentor for him, whether they want to pursue a research and engineering career or otherwise.
"I just want to inspire students to do their best," Pierce said.
And as he continues his career as a NASA, Pierce enjoys the best of two worlds from the coastal location of the Wallops Flight Facility.
"It's great to work in such an exciting exploration and exploration area to do the coastal community," Pierce said.
Jannette Pippin's reporter is available at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@JDNews.com. You can find digital subscription information here.