Tom Graves, From NASA to Substitute Teacher

Tom Graves, From NASA Engineer to Substitute Teacher
Posted on 08/23/2023
From NASA Engineer to Substitute Teacher, Tom Graves Shares His “Out of This World” Life Experiences with DCSD Students

Growing up in rural Louisiana in a town of 1,200 people and graduating high school in a class of 23 people, Tom Graves never imagined he would someday land a job at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). After working on top missions and helping land a man on the moon, Tom now shares his life experiences as a substitute teacher at Legend High School in Parker. 

Tom graduated from the University of Louisiana - Monroe. He then attended graduate school at the University of Colorado - Boulder and the University of Houston - Clear Lake. His inspiration to pursue a career in advanced science came from his mother, a high school math teacher, and his high school chemistry teacher. Experimenting with model rockets in the 1950s led him to a career with NASA. 

Tom worked for NASA for 24 years. As an aerospace technologist/engineer, pyro and batteries section chief, and subsystem manager for Apollo, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), and Space Shuttle Programs, Tom was responsible for the overall design, production, and mission use of explosive devices for all NASA manned spacecraft. He worked at Manned Spacecraft Center, now Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas.

Photo of certificate certifying that Tom Graves participated in the Apollo 14 mission, January 31, 1971 in Houston Texasenjoyed the challenging assignments, the aggressive work schedule, and the excitement of producing new products for an extraordinary mission and working with a dedicated team of engineers and astronauts to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth in the 1960s.  

“Some particularly memorable moments were the crew recovery activities associated with the Apollo 13 explosion and sadly operating my subsystem console in the Mission Evaluation Room during the Challenger disaster. I traveled extensively with other government agencies and commercial businesses to develop and produce over 300 man-critical explosive devices for a typical lunar mission,” said Tom.

After his career with NASA, Tom joined the private sector, working for several aerospace and engineering firms in the metro-Denver area for 22 years. During retirement, Tom wanted to remain active professionally and share his life experiences with the next generation of teachers, engineers, and future leaders in our community.

As a substitute teacher at Legend High School, Tom typically works 110 days a year and teaches all grades. While his knowledge base is primarily math, engineering, and science, he’s available to all departments. He occasionally subs in the Performing Arts Department, working from great lesson plans. 

Photo collage of Tom Graves at NASA and in the classroom“Last school year I covered Chinese for two weeks using some of the best, detailed lesson plans any sub has ever had! My goal for every class is to use the class time as effectively as possible when the regular teacher is absent,” Tom said.

Students won’t get a pass with this substitute. Tom has a solid command of the classroom and sticks to the lesson plan. When asked what he likes best about being a substitute teacher, Tom pointed to the interaction with the students, staff, and administration at Legend High School.  

“After 12 years, Legend is like a second home during the school year where many faculty and staff are personal friends,” he said. “It’s a dream part-time job for someone wanting to stay active and give back to a public education system that made my professional life possible.”

He also does his fair share of learning in the classroom, from his students.

“The potential of students committed to making the very best of their time in high school - it's exciting to be around students who challenge and inspire me every day,” he said. “Our three sons graduated from Ponderosa High School and their time there prepared them well for successful careers today.”
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