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Mechanical Engineer Follows Dream of Creating Rockets that Will Reach the Moon

A mechanical engineering student posing for a picture

William “Billy” Amtmann ’19 works at Intuitive Machines, which is contracted by NASA to work on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to help private companies build lunar landers.

William “Billy” Amtmann ’19 sure sounds like he’s living the life of a rocket scientist, but he’s quick to laugh and point out that the real rocket scientists are the ones launching rockets into space. For Amtmann, a Mechanical Engineer now working in Houston, Texas, his role is still just as exciting, as those rockets won’t get very far without his team creating and testing the engines that will eventually make it to the moon.

“We’re not just developing technology in a lab,” he says. “The things we create will be in space. They’ll be part of some pretty exciting missions.”

Amtmann was interested in space exploration since he was a kid. He remembers learning how vast the universe is and how much more exists beyond our own galaxy. That fascination with the unknown elements of space led him to explore an education at York College of Pennsylvania in its Mechanical Engineering program.

In the Graham Innovation Scholars Program at the College, he spent a summer studying space exploration. His Capstone project was with the York County Astronomical Society, where he helped build a radio telescope. When he interned at NASA and saw the next generation of rocket engines being tested, he knew he’d found his career path.

A lunar mission

Since October 2019, Amtmann has been working at Intuitive Machines in Houston, Texas, where his team is contracted by NASA to work on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to help private companies build lunar landers.

Every week, he tests a rocket engine that will help Nova-C, an unmanned lunar lander, make a stop on the moon. He builds the hardware that will hold it together and the boxes that will keep the electronics safe. The work pushes the limits of engineering, often needing to work in temperatures near zero degrees to way above boiling points.

“It’s an amazing job that tests my grit and makes sure I’m a good engineer,” he says.

His work is used with a very practical purpose—not just in a lab where no one will see or use it. Rather, the technology he works to develop could help to finalize the technology for rockets being sent to Mars or the development of carbon fiber.

“There’s something exciting about being the person who builds the box or tightens the bolt, and that’s the equipment that’s later in space,” he says. “It’s a dream to put it all together and know that it’s destined for bigger things.”

A solid background

Amtmann recognizes the faculty at York College for helping him not only fine-tune his engineering skills, but also for helping him prepare his resumè and practice for interviews. They even helped him politely bow out of his first accepted internship when NASA reached out to him soon after with an invitation.

That helping hand, he says, made the difference in his success. “I was able to make my education my own and pursue the things that were important to me. York College gave me the opportunity to be who I am today.”