Father and son had hands in build of Starliner

Engineering is in Marcelo Blalock’s blood with his dad’s rich space history.

February 27, 2023 in Space

  Marcelo Blalock and his parents Marcelo Blalock (center) and his parents, Mike and Maria Blalock, prepare to watch the CST-100 Starliner, seen behind them, roll to United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility in 2019. Courtesy Marcelo Blalock

Test engineer Marcelo Blalock still can visualize visiting his dad’s workplace at Kennedy Space Center in high school and being in awe of the hardware in a lab that certified sensors, transducers and other equipment for shuttle launch support.

Little did he know, he’d be working years later as an adult with his father on a NASA contract at KSC for six years and then later on the CST-100 Starliner program for about eight months before his dad retired in 2018.

“I really look up to my dad and in my mind he’s one of the most brilliant people I know. To be able to work with him and see him in action was fantastic to me,” Marcelo said. “It’s a life experience I’ll never get again, but will always be ingrained in my memory.”

Marcelo and his dad, Norman “Mike” Blalock, a former engineer with McDonnell Douglas and Boeing as well as a manager with other aerospace companies, worked in the engineering development lab on numerous projects toward the end of the space shuttle program and provided support for the Constellation program and the Space Launch System ground system development. Mike said he was proud of his son, who became the “go to” guy when seeking a viable solution in an efficient manner.

  Starliner test engineer Marcelo Blalock Starliner test engineer Marcelo Blalock pauses for a photo Inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing facility in Florida. John Proferes photo

After Marcelo left to go work on Starliner, first as a contractor and then as a Boeing employee, he convinced his dad to come work on the program as a contractor.

“The roles were reversed, as Marcelo was already knowledgeable about all systems of Starliner and was a great help for me getting my feet on the floor,” Mike said. “He was my sounding board and still my ‘go to’ person as I progressed in my new job. I will always cherish the time that we had to work together.”

On Starliner, the two were on different projects. Mike was working on the spacecraft flight instrumentation system and Marcelo was working in an integration lab and on vehicle testing.

“I touched the hardware that he put on the vehicle,” Marcelo said.

Mike knew his son was mechanically inclined in elementary school, when Marcelo eagerly wanted to help him with repairs. 

“He was interested in lawn mowers, go-karts, dirt bikes and cars,” Mike said. “As I got older, [Marcelo] was the child who wanted to fix whatever broke. When he didn’t have a particular part or tool, he would innovate and create a method to do the job. It was at this point that I realized he had engineering abilities.”

Marcelo, who has an electrical engineering technology degree and a bachelor’s in business administration and management, said he knew space was the field for him — having grown up near the space center and knowing about his dad’s long career with NASA since 1972, including during part of the Apollo program.

  Starliner test engineer Marcelo Blalock Starliner test engineer Marcelo Blalock measures current resistance values prior to a test inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing facility in Florida. John Proferes photo

On Starliner Marcelo has excelled and received numerous awards, including NASA’s prestigious Space Flight Awareness Silver Snoopy for his continued dedication to human spaceflight.

The nomination stated: “Marcelo Blalock is the epitome of a test engineer. He relentlessly pursues the root cause of technical issues and drives them to closure. On the Starliner team, he is consistently at the center of technical and troubleshooting discussions. Marcelo is always thorough and unassuming in his approach to engineering challenges.” 

For the upcoming Crew Flight Test, he works on the integrated testing of the vehicle, supporting commodity loading from the electrical aspect, as well as supporting multiple other teams on overall vehicle integration. He will be on console in the Boeing Mission Control Room as a ground Electrical Power System (EPS) support team member during operations at the United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility and the launch pad. After the spacecraft launches, he will transition to support the orbital mission as an EPS Mission Support Room console operator.

When it comes to accolades, he shies away from taking credit and points to having a good team around him.

“I love the people I work with and I love being involved in hands-on testing where we can real-time troubleshoot and resolve problems that arise,” Marcelo said. “It’s also nice to work on something where the numbers are few. Very few people in the world get to work on a spacecraft.”

When he’s not at work, he’s at home with his wife, Nathaly, and their four children. He’s involved with sports activities with their two sons and two daughters or working on renovations at home.

One might also find him working on cars and motorcycles with his dad and one of his brothers.

“It’s more of a hobby. We like to piddle,” he said. 

He’s grateful for that family bond. He enjoyed seeing Starliner launch and having had the opportunity to watch it roll out of the factory to the pad for the first time with his dad.

“We did a lot of legwork and it was exhilarating to experience that together,” he said.