Ligon learned how to manage his time and grew to be a successful engineering student, but his final goal still lurked just out of reach – an internship at NASA.
“Academics freshman year had bogged me down, and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be doing,” Ligon said. “Did I want to be doing engineering? Did I want to be doing aerospace engineering?”
One conversation with his professor later, Ligon found a place to belong. He worked with a team that built and launched a satellite on a NASA rocket. Ligon and his team created a digital mechanical design, but the launch was ultimately canceled. Regardless, he valued his time working with students who are passionate about aerospace engineering
“I used to not be the one to go and take initiative to see if I could do something like that,” Ligon said. “It was good to see (the risk) paid off.”
From an earthly viewpoint, Ligon can see all of the work he’s logged in has been worth it. Although Ligon said he struggled to adjust in his freshman year of school, he also said that he was glad to have taken the path he did. Anything else might not have brought him to the desk he occupies this summer at NASA’s Langley offices.
“I would tell (younger me) to take more risks, to go out on a limb more,” Ligon said. “You never know what’s going to happen until you try – it sounds cliché but it’s true.”
After first seeing dreams achieved in “October Sky” and then in his own life, Ligon has pushed himself to search for more. Seeing the Earth in perspective from space has helped Ligon in that regard.
“To borrow from the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, ‘Not only are we in the universe, but the universe is in us,’” Ligon said. “I don't really know of anything else that brings such a deeper, more spiritual feeling to me than that very fact. That's what drives and inspires me, and so many others, in our daily work at NASA.”