Stars of Into the Unknown – Jon Arenberg

Jon Arenberg


Jon Arenberg



Job Title:

Chief Engineer for Space Science Missions

What that means:

I am responsible for the overall integrity and performance of our designs for future space science missions. When I was working on Webb, I was responsible for the system design and performance.

I grew up in:

I grew up in Santa Monica, California.

Who/what inspired me to do what I am doing now:

I grew up on my father’s stories of the early space age, launching captured German rockets after WWII, America’s answer to Sputnik and other adventures. I am a child of the 1960s and watched the progress to the moon live and in person. I like solving what I call “a hardest” problem. Space missions are full of “hardest problems.”

I went to College/University at:

University of California, Los Angeles. Go Bruins!!

I hold a degree(s) in the following areas:

BS Physics, MS and PhD Engineering

What I’m most looking forward to seeing or learning about from JWST:

I am most excited to see the unexpected, the mysterious and the unexplained. Namely, the discoveries that make everyone go, “Wow, I didn’t expect that.”

Advice someone once gave me that really impacted me:

When I was very small my father said, “Do what you enjoy doing and do it as well as you can.” It is guiding principle of my life, and good advice!

Share an experience or obstacle you’ve experienced in school or early career and how you overcame it:

School, life will toss obstacles in your way. You will fall down, that is not important. What is important is picking yourself up, learning and moving on. Some of the early and typical disappointments early in my career taught me about patience and have more than one way to achieve my goals.

What I do in my spare time:

I am a retired competitive weight lifter and still train. I am civically active, especially in areas of science outreach and education like the California State Science Fair. I also enjoy time just hanging with my family and my cats.

What do you feel is the world’s greatest scientific accomplishment?

Science itself. Namely the testing of ideas, the scientific method, it is the root of all advancements.

Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?

Yes, absolutely. My job is the coolest thing. I get to invent the future. I get to imagine it and then make it happen.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in a STEM career?

If you want to do a job like mine, set your sights and just go. I say to you, “Yes, you can.” I got here by dreaming and hard work and study. You can too.

What skills are important for you in your work?

Technical skills are very important. I have been out of school a long time and still work hard at learning and studying new areas of science, math and other problem solving. I addition to technical skills, the ability to work alone or in a big team and communication are critical. The non-technical aspects of my work are what are called soft-skills. Engineering is a team sport and everyone matters. As a leader, I need to make sure everyone is heard and can contribute and learn.

With 1 being never/not important and 5 always/very important:

How important, or frequently used, is Science in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Technology in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Engineering in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

How important, or frequently used, is Math in your day-to-day job activities?

☐1 ☐2 ☐3 ☐4 ☒5

Other skills, in addition to STEM, that are necessary to be successful in my job:

Creativity, communication, a good sense of humor, the ability to listen to someone you might not agree with and understand what they are telling you, strong work ethic.

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