There were five kilometers between Josh Dobbs and the launch pad, enough distance to be safe. Yet as the rocket began its fiery ascent on the horizon, Dobbs and those around him – American senators, officials, vice president and president, to name a few – began to feel the rush on their observation platform.
“It was really powerful,” said Dobbs to Jaguar Report.
Next to Dobbs was Charles Bolden. It has seen its fair share of launches over the years, but it was still ecstatic for this one – the first launch of astronauts from American soil in nine years. And yet he couldn’t help but look at Josh.
“Having the opportunity to sit there next to Joshua and watch him, all the excitement and everything,” says Bolden. “To see the fear on his face, and I can’t help but think that something in him probably said I would love to do that one of these days. «
Being part of a launch someday is not an unrealizable dream for Dobbs. He says teammates Jags are already considering this possibility.
“They come to ask a lot of questions,” he laughs. “They are funny, like ‘it is literally an astronaut.’ It’s their favorite thing. “
As valid as it is, is it doable? What would it really take to go from one demanding career to another? As Dobbs stared at the edge of the SpaceX rocket toward the edge of the atmosphere, and Charles Bolden stared at Dobbs, the future of American space travel stood before them. And maybe they were also looking at the future of Josh Dobbs.
Until now, there was only one: Leland Melvin.
In 62 years of NASA history, Melvin is the only person to have played in the NFL before becoming an astronaut. His Detroit Lions jersey hangs in the Professional Football Hall of Fame, a place of honor after returning from space. Melvin rebounded around three teams his rookie season before a hamstring injury ended the professional career for the wide receiver at the University of Richmond. He turned his attention to aeronautical engineering and in 2008, carried out his first mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. Bolden – a former high school quarterback himself – describes Melvin as “my first hero”.
Now the two unite and turn their attention to Dobbs.
Bolden holds several titles: the Major-General of the United States Marine Corps, a four-time space shuttle veteran and the 12th NASA administrator. He is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and has completed more than 100 wartime missions. He went into space and oversaw the transition to NASA from the space shuttle program to the era of the International Space Station. He served in the Obama administration, founded the consulting firm The Bolden Group, and now acts as an American science envoy to the world. Yet several weeks ago, when old acquaintances of the Kennedy Space Center sent him an article from a local newspaper, he read it with admiration.
The young man in the article was Dobbs and the story delighted Bolden. He immediately reached out, wanting to speak with the guy who was pursuing two demanding careers simultaneously. A few weeks later, the two ended up at the Kennedy Space Center. It was Bolden who admired the person before him.
“I was kind of like a gaga fan to be honest,” says Bolden. “Meeting Josh was really a treat for me personally. “
Dobbs is entering his fourth year in the NFL, his second with the Jaguars, and has a degree from the University of Tennessee in aerospace engineering. So yes, he’s a rocket specialist. During an NFL Players Association internship this spring – before the COVID-19 collapse – Dobbs spent three weeks at the Kennedy Space Center, hosted by Tennessee Volunteer alumni, floating around to see the inner workings of each team coming together to launch rockets from the United States.
“To be there, take everything,” says Dobbs, “it really brought it all home for my experience there, understanding what NASA is doing. The way they partner with these trading companies, and then be there for the first commercial launch and the first American launch since 2011, has been an encapsulating experience. ”
The lessons are also applicable in the field. Dobbs says his engineering skills are transferable to the quarterback.
“When you go to school for engineering, from the moment you enter campus, you run into a physics problem,” says Dobbs. “You are asked to find the most effective way to resolve this problem, and then repeat it for the next one.
“When you’re quarterback on the football field, the defense is constantly having problems and you’re in charge of ‘OK, let me solve this problem effectively and move on to the next one.’ So having this constant mindset of critical thinking, this engineering mindset, this problem solving mindset is exactly how it correlates. So you practice both, whether you are in the engineering world or in the field. “
It was his natural intelligence and dedication to stretching his mind that helped Dobbs memorize the numerical value of Pi beyond the 80th decimal place and become a flexible field engineer, which Bolden sees directly translating into a future with NASA.
“You are constantly chasing the field and trying to think of something that the defense doesn’t expect you to do,” says Bolden. “He constantly monitors the terrain.
“In the space program – although we have a very good plan in place – we are constantly looking for contributions from people who might say,” You know, I know that’s what we said we are going to do, but it there really is a better idea out there. “
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and amplified cultural revolutions, pockets of the population who seem to have answers can become a safe place, a link for a drifting society. Sports often provide that common ground.
But the sport is still in limbo. That’s why for at least a window of time on the last Saturday afternoon in May, the nation’s eyes turned to the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and found a common rooting interest.
It was also a reminder to Dobbs and Bolden that apart from all the practical applications, the camaraderie and the spirit provided in sports and the space program are similar.
“Space is not that different from football,” says Bolden. “In football, you have only one mission, that of winning and defeating the other team. Despite all the differences – whether it’s race, sexual persuasion or whatever, everyone is focused on the game plan and finding a way to defeat the other team.
“In space, you are not trying to defeat anyone but you have a mission. You are trying to come together and you actually want as much diversity in your team as possible in the space world. We are always looking for someone who has a weird idea, something we haven’t tried before that can actually make us successful. ”
Dobbs adds: “It really shows what – whether as a nation or just the human race – when we combine our minds, combine our diversity, combine our different horizons, combine our different ways of thinking, combine our different experiences, it really shows what this stack of thoughts can do. The feat of launching something out of Earth’s atmosphere is not easy, and then tying astronauts on board adds a different level of risk.
“It was a pretty tough weekend in the United States while I was there. So having this launch… it was the perfect example of what the unit looks like. They are literally engineers, various moving parts, companies, various people across the country who do not even interact with each other on a daily basis, but they all work together toward a common goal.
“If we all come together, we can accomplish anything, from solving social problems and reforming to launching a rocket to the International Space Station.”
There may come a day when Dobbs is one of them. He and the Jaguars have all made increased efforts to tackle the firsts in recent weeks. For now, he will continue to spend his off-season preparing for the coming season.
He spent time working with starter Gardner Minshew II before a spike in COVID-19 cases led the NFLPA to ask players to stop training together in person. When things start to reopen, he hopes to take his teammates to the Kennedy Space Center. It takes a little more than two hours between the TIAA banking field and the base. Then it’s back to football, where Dobbs will provide depth behind Minshew in Jay Gruden’s new attack. But this is not the end of his journey.
Author Paul Brandt once said, “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon. “
Admittedly, it’s been almost 50 years since NASA and the United States put a man on the moon – Gene Cernan was the last to come up in 1972. But the market for ideas that Bolden mentioned and the excitement that he saw on Dobbs’ the face is the sparks that can start a fire. Or a rocket igniter.
“He’s already on the right track,” says Bolden.
Dobbs already has an undergraduate technical degree and work experience at the Kennedy Space Center. Bolden says that Dobbs would need to obtain a master’s degree, which he expects from Dobbs without any problem.
“From everything I’ve seen,” says Bolden, “he was a very good student. And if you can be a good student while you play Division I college football, then you are a very good student. ”
Bolden knows that the lifespan of a playing career in the NFL is relatively short. If Dobbs is not interested in space missions, Bolden says there are many aerospace careers that await Dobbs after his days of play are over.
And if Dobbs is cold, Bolden can always turn to Melvin, the “first hero” of Dobbs to convince the quarterback of the Jags.
“Leland and I decided we are going to join Josh,” says Bolden, “To convince him that he should enjoy his NFL career, but keep his toes in the water to become an astronaut someday.” “
One of these days may seem far away. But it’s well within reach. Dobbs admits that this is an attractive opportunity that could continue long after the end of football.
“I was fortunate to work with NASA – and it was my first experience in space, to see what NASA does and to see what life is like in an aerospace engineer – I had summer, had some internships on the aviation side, to be able to get the other side, I think it showed me that there are a lot of possibilities.
“It would be amazing to work for NASA, so I think space is definitely a possibility. “