South Dakota Ranch Kid Turns NASA Rocket Scientist

July 24, 2017 10:01 AM

Travis Davis isn't one to pass on opportunities. The 27-year-old has already worked as a wildland firefighter in Montana, interned at construction equipment giant Caterpillar in Illinois, and was offered a job by NASA after graduating from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in 2013.

Nine months into the job at NASA, Davis was offered a full-ride scholarship for a bioengineering master's program in Dublin, Ireland, and took it. After graduating from the program and getting married, Davis returned to NASA, focusing on testing proportion valves on rocket engines.

The job in Huntsville, Alabama, has taken Davis a long way from his native Harding County, where he grew up on a ranch herding cattle, the Rapid City Journal reported.

His family's history there begins in the late 19th century when his ancestors built a cabin in Belle Fourche. About a century later they started the black angus cattle ranch in Camp Crook.

Davis, a fifth-generation rancher, tinkered with cars and motorcycles with his father and brother. He fished with friends and picked up basketball and football. After graduating as one of three valedictorians in a class of 21, Davis moved to Rapid City to attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

That's where he met his future wife, Amanda, who was studying civil engineering. She now works at the International Space Station.

Davis said he doesn't have any regrets looking back, but he's not sure what the future will hold. He likes his job, but he's also interested in careers in biomedical engineering and additive manufacturing.

And NASA has another draw: his best friend since grade school and fellow Harding County native, Tal Wammen, also works there.

Wammen is a propulsion test engineer who tests the parts that Davis' group designs. "Growing up in a small community, I feel like it gave me skills that aren't found in the common workforce," Wammen said. "It's hard to find people that really want to work these days. We don't take anything for granted."

Davis agrees. His future might be at NASA, or it might be somewhere else.

"If something comes up that I think I can really help people or do something really good," Davis said, "I think I need to take that opportunity."


Information from: Rapid City Journal,

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Spell Check

Mark Armentrout
Alpharetta, GA
7/25/2017 09:12 AM

  What a testimony to the quality of rural high schools and the SD School of Mines & Technology to have three young engineers working for NASA. Well done to all!