By: Macy Dennon
Have you ever dreamt of sending something to space? Mark Calassa, Vice President and Deputy General Manager of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems at the aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin, has realized that dream. During the Job Shadow Day, Calassa and Lockheed Martin hosted a group of Los Gatos High students to tell them about the company and what’s going on at its Sunnyvale, California campus. Calassa said 150 of his projects from the course of his career are currently orbiting the Earth. He represents one of the many local role models for aspiring engineers at Los Gatos High School.
Lockheed Martin designs, manufactures, integrates, and sustains advanced technology. Calassa said he started his aerospace career as a mechanical design engineer in 1985 for Lockheed Martin, where he designed and tested equipment. Early in his career he published a few academic papers, and one notable feat was when he submitted a report for NASA’s Mechanism symposium in the mid-90s. He noted, “After several years, I was named an expert in spacecraft mechanisms by NASA.” His projects included “an antenna gimbal which is something that points to a communications antenna…[the other was] for a solar array deployment.”
Not only are his responsibilities significant, Calassa shared that Lockheed Martin’s customers within his portfolio include agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.K. Ministry of Defence. At Lockheed Martin, Calassa maintained a position as a satellite designer and program manager for 37 years while leading important briefings to Pentagon leadership on the various projects. Last year, he changed roles after being asked to become a leader of the company’s strategic and missile defense work, an area he admits he was not well aware of previously. But due to his adaptability, Calassa has excelled as a leader. He explained that his duties extend far and wide: “I help lead the day to day operations of a broad portfolio of programs and strategic deterrence, missile defense, directed energy, and hypersonic strike.”
Speaking of Calassa’s other achievements, Lockheed Martin worked with NASA to produce solar arrays for the International Space Station (ISS). In fact, Lockheed Martin built all of the solar arrays on the ISS; Calassa noted, “those are all designed and built by my team, and we trained the astronauts who then took it up and assembled it. We actually trained them here in Sunnyvale, how to deploy it and how to work on it.”
Lockheed Martin recently received a contract from the U.S. Navy on Feb. 17, 2023, “to integrate the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) weapon system onto ZUMWALT-class guided missile destroyers (DDGs),” according to a company press release. CPS is a hypersonic boost-glide weapon system that enables long-range missile flight faster than Mach 5, and it will provide the nation’s first sea-based hypersonic strike capability. The company’s latest effort to develop it focuses on launcher systems, weapon control, integrated missile components, and platform integration support for the naval platform. Calassa said that hypersonics continues to be an exciting field for current and future engineers to explore as an urgent national imperative.
Directed energy is also an element in the future of security, Calassa excitedly claimed. Together with the Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin has been developing this technology for over 40 years. However, there is still progress to be made for laser weapon systems and other technology in that arena. Calassa noted, “Finally, electronics, artificial intelligence, everything is coming together… Whether it’s Star Wars or Star Trek, all these things we’re working on for the 21st century security of our nation are going to become a reality.”
An example of Lockheed Martin’s continued success in this ever-evolving field includes teamwork through the IRON BEAM project. The companies issued a news release stating that Lockheed Martin and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems recently signed an agreement to jointly develop High Energy Laser Weapon Systems in the United States and Israel for ground-based air defense against threats such as rockets, mortars, and UAVs.
Calassa said that in every effort, the goal is always 100-percent mission success. While these types of projects often take years to design and develop, seeing them come to fruition is particularly meaningful. He said the feeling of accomplishment overcomes any disappointment, making it all worthwhile, explaining that when thousands of things move perfectly and work as they should on-orbit it is “a proud moment.”
Even with all of the aerospace developments Calassa has been a part of, he still finds time to be a great leader and make time for others. According to Calassa, being a leader involves always motivating and fostering a development-focused working environment. Calassa guides his team with such goals: “You have to develop your people and let them leave. That’s how you grow people.” Even though he has a never-ending busy schedule, Calassa is never upset to go to work; he is always excited about what the day might bring because his field is always working on exciting new projects and concepts. He explained his love further, stating, “All through my career when the phone rings, I come in and do what I need to do, and it’s just an honor to do that.”
Many students at Los Gatos High School, and many high school students around the globe aspire to become successful engineers in the future; knowing this, he remarked, “It’s obvious that you have to study math and science and engineering, but that’s not the most important skill. The most important skill is being able to communicate, being able to get along with a team, and being able to work as a team member.” Calassa’s love for his work is truly inspirational. He explained how engineers have the challenge to solve the world’s biggest problems, but he elaborated that “engineers like to solve hard problems; it inspires them and gives them energy.” Calassa loves it when people come to him with the impossible; then, he helps make the most complex of ideas not only possible but probable.