From SIC to NASA: Joseph Oldham's journey

Published: Jun. 27, 2017 at 11:43 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2017 at 3:37 PM CDT
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Oldham and his wife, Jessica, on the NASA Kennedy Space Center Causeway, Cape Canaveral,...
Oldham and his wife, Jessica, on the NASA Kennedy Space Center Causeway, Cape Canaveral, Florida, watching the launch of Orion EFT-1 mission 2014. (Source: Joseph Oldham)

HARRISBURG, IL (KFVS) - A native of Shawneetown, Illinois, and a graduate of Southeastern Illinois College, is now successfully working at NASA.

Joseph Oldham graduated Gallatin County High School in 1999 and enrolled in SIC to pursue an associate's degree in pre-engineering.

SIC student Shannon Welker interviewed him about where he started and where he's at now.

According to Welker, several members of Oldham's family attended Southeastern Illinois College, and his aunt, Dr. Mary Jo Oldham was a former president of the school.

"My path at SIC is one shared with many who have walked its halls straight out of high school trying to figure out what path to take and finding it difficult to figure out what I would want to do for the rest of my life," Oldham told Welker.

Oldham said he improved his study habits, learned new skills, and found his drive while at SIC, which would influence his academic and career choices later in life.

"He was truly a high-quality math professor, even though I didn't realize it at the time I took his courses. He was as good as they come," Oldham said of one of his professors, Alan Morgan.

In 2001, Oldham graduated from SIC with honors and an associate's degree in both science and engineering science. He finished his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Mechanics at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, then continued his studies further at Bradley University, where he earned his Master's of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Computer Mechanics.

Oldham now lives in Denver and works for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, the primary contractor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. His team is developing the Orion spacecraft, which will be used for a US mission to Mars.

He explained to Welker that Orion is similar to the Apollo mission conducted in the 1960s and 70s.

Oldham works as a structural dynamicist.

"I help work out many things on the Orion spacecraft from how the parts of the ship will separate during flight staging events or how hard the air will pummel the outside of the craft on its way to space, to how the parachutes are launched from the capsule to slow the spacecraft before landing," he said, explaining his job.

More information about the Orion spacecraft, scheduled to fly in 2018, can be found at

Orion is currently undergoing assembly and testing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Through all his achievements, Oldham never forgets the small college that inspired him to chase his dreams.

"SIC and the support of my family provided a firm foundation for me to chase what once felt like insurmountable challenges and enabled me to call them achievements, and I am very appreciative of this," said Oldham. "Southeastern Illinois College offers an invaluable service to all the small rural communities it serves. I am only one of many others who have benefited from the college's resources in the pursuit of knowledge to better myself and to attempt to set a course for success in my life endeavors."

Registration is going on now for fall semester at SIC, which begins Aug. 14.  For more information about classes, visit, call 618-252-5400 ext. 4130 or email

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