Pixels in Orbit: A short story about how my designs made it to space

Title
Pixels in Orbit: A short story about how my designs made it to space
Published
May 1, 2020

I always hear about people who want to be hired by the biggest companies and do what they love. A few months ago I managed to do both in the blink of an eye. There are stories that deserve to be told, especially those that can inspire other people to overcome their own limitations and realize that in the simplest things are the greatest treasures.

It is worth mentioning that I have had several dream jobs throughout my short career, but this particular project I am about to tell you about is one that changed my life, but also required me to put myself at risk and make important sacrifices.

The jobs you dream about as a child are a window into your passions and talents. If you can identify and understand them, they will help you enjoy life.

Some people dream of growing up to be doctors, others of becoming great athletes or teachers. In my case, I dreamed of going into space (to Jupiter) and making my mark.

My father was probably the biggest influence on this dream: he was a big fan of celestial bodies and explored them from two main angles. The first was from astronomy through ALDA, an astronomy association that he led. The second was through astrology.

My greatest enjoyment was being in nature, sharing with animals and exploring. But my passion was accompanying him to astronomy observations and learning as many details as possible and then endlessly asking how those details related to us on earth from antiquity to the present day.

Houston, we have a problem: the crisis

For impatient readers who want to skip the story and go straight to the moral learning it left me with, I'll quickly summarize: this story is about knocking on a door (at least metaphorically) and that you don't have to be God to get amazing opportunities.

As I said, this is a story about knowing what you want and taking action. But of course, it's never that easy. Looking back, I know there were two key factors that made this possible: choosing the right company and having put my career together for that precise moment (also some luck, but I don't want to talk about that).

At the beginning of last year, my life took a sudden and revealing turn: one January afternoon, my wife and I received the news that we were going to be parents. While it was something that filled me with joy, for the first time in my life I could also feel the fear in the deepest part of my being because from that moment on a life, apart from my own, was under my responsibility.

We were living in Venezuela, a country in the midst of a social and economic crisis where everything was scarce... And it was going to get worse.

In March a failure in the national electric service left the whole country without power for days. We experienced chaos like never before. There are things like light, which we take for granted anywhere in the world, and when it is needed, they reveal to us how infinitely vulnerable we can be as a society.

This situation shook all the foundations of my business, my family and even my own paradigms. It made me rethink everything, open myself up to being able to get ahead of problems that did not yet exist but that we could probably face.

Looking back and recognizing everything I had built in my career and the new facets I had to generate were the basis for cementing an accelerated change. It also made me understand that sure things are relative and that you never know what would happen tomorrow. Whatever I have each day I would have to make the most of it.

Launching in 3,2,1...

By mid-year I had completely changed my business model, strengthened my digital presence and outlined a more solid networking strategy. To solve infrastructure, connection and stable lighting issues, I made an alliance with the best co-working in my city and I was ready for action.

One afternoon I found an opening to work in a digital agency called Hipinspire that has clients with great social impact: Google, NASA, Mercedes Benz, among others... Wait a minute, NASA? This agency can bring me closer to getting involved with something that transcends the globe.

Remember my childhood dream? Well, knocking on a door doesn't kill anyone. I decided to make a contact, briefly explaining why I would like to work with them and designed a solution to a problem I found on their website. I also spent a few extra minutes making my proposal lively. I did the latter mainly for fun and because I thought they might remember it better that way.

The next day I surprisingly received an email from them asking me for a meeting that same afternoon. And as you can imagine: I was filled with excitement for being considered and at the same time with fear for having now in front of me the opportunity to miss what I was looking forward to so much.

A couple of days later I would be full time on their projects and fortunately, after proving my commitment and quality of work with some medium sized projects, they gave me the opportunity to lead a project for space, specifically designing the space uniform labels and mission branding for Space Flight Industries.

Special thanks to Jodi Sorensen for sending a bag full of Spaceflight badges and items to our offices in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Special thanks to Jodi Sorensen for sending a bag full of Spaceflight badges and items to our offices in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the next few months I would be designing for 5 different missions that involved space rocket launches, deploying emerging technologies in space, delving into more ambitious earth-facing studies and all of this was partly making me write a few letters of human history:

  • First mission: PSLV
  • Second mission: RL-2
  • Third mission: SEOPS-2
  • Fourth and fifth mission: RL3 and SSLV-D2.

While I ended up working on my dream project, I fervently believe that I would not have been ready for this opportunity if it had come at any other time in my life. As much as the project was the right match, it also had to happen at the right time.

Mockups of spacesuit patches for the first mission.
Mockups of spacesuit patches for the first mission.

An Astronaut with classic compass

We are usually told that we have to focus our careers on clear goals and once we make a decision to go all in until we achieve it.

I like to start by recognizing the things I don't want and so, every time an opportunity presents itself and I see that we don't fit, I have a moral responsibility to myself and my dreams to decline the offer and wait for the next one. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not knowing when to give up what doesn't suit us.

To fulfill this dream my first step was to look into the future and ask myself: what is the ideal job for me? The crisis in my own country led me early in my career to focus on becoming a multi-skilled professional (design, business, marketing, illustration), but above all to choose an area of expertise.

This allowed me to go against the tide, and while my colleagues were fighting for the same types of projects, I was growing like a shark in a small fishbowl: I was getting better opportunities and faster. I was also managing to put a favorable spin on getting paid for my work.

Later I would meet mentors like Chris Do or Blair Enns who would help me take this game to a higher level.

But it wasn't all about money, the truth is that there were other conditions that were important to me: freedom, above all others.

Perhaps the quest for freedom has something to do with my upbringing, or my birth sign (Aquarius), or maybe something simpler: I don't want a short career, but a lifetime to explore the limits of my own creativity and with it, help others to improve their quality of life.

In that sense, my second choice was to forget about traditional jobs with office hours and 100% face-to-face. Instead, I explored from the beginning remote work opportunities, first within my own country and then, as soon as I felt confident in other languages, I looked for them in other latitudes. In a matter of years I would be working with my laptop and cell phone, traveling around different cities in Panama, Colombia or Venezuela and working for Startups and companies in Europe, the Middle East or North America.

You can't get to the moon without preparation and hard work

I had managed to erase the boundaries in my work, but I also always faced my own distractions, desires to procrastinate and the constant pressure or ridicule from family and friends who did not fully understand my work or the way I worked.

I discovered then that the key to resist over time would be to build a philosophy of life that would keep my feet on the ground and my mind increasingly higher.

I accompanied this philosophy by practicing in depth disciplines such as Karate, meditation and yoga. Body, mind and spirit could be aligned with my dreams if I chose to do so day after day.

Another important point was definitely having English as a second language up my sleeve, and discovering (unlike common thinking), that I didn't have to be an expert speaker to be able to engage in deep conversations and connect with people.

Keeping my online platforms up to date (LinkedIn and Website, mainly), helped me tremendously. For recruiters, employers or potential professional allies, the fact that you have a solid online presence will speak strongly about how you present your work and your view on the world.

Now, am I dreaming big enough?

Success takes time. If you're building anything from scratch, it will take time. In fact, everything takes time. Even when you try to work aggressively from early to late, things won't go as planned.

Patience is not the art of simply waiting for something to happen, rather it is the ability to not get frustrated and stay motivated even when it takes time.

Daydreaming has been the greatest lesson I've been able to get from all this and understanding that there are 2 ways to live life: as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is... or at least that's what Albert Einstein said, and I think he's someone who earned the opportunity to have his ideas taken into account, don't you think?

Final thoughts

Being able to work on this project for Space Flight Industries, fulfilled my childhood dream: to reach space and leave a footprint, and in turn opened opportunities for me to meet a formidable team of professionals who are revolutionizing the world by bringing together science, engineering, art and design. It also allowed me very soon to change jobs and put my skills at the service of tools that want to change the collaborative and professional work online, or even help create new systems for the control of the menstrual cycle of women in Latin America and the United States... But of these and other projects, I will tell you in the not too distant future.

Game changer

If you want to make the most of your career, be prepared not to be afraid to take risks when opportunities present themselves. To be effective, luck has to find you working.

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