As a kid growing up in North Andover, John Cullen plastered his bedroom walls with NASA-related pennants and posters. He was drawn to the stars, the planets, the mystery and endlessness of it all. Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut known for his video rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while on the International Space Station, was his idol.
Now, the 22-year-old senior art major is interning for NASA at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, working in video production and graphic design for the International Space Station program. Cullen’s assignments include working on promotional videos, illustrations and infographics. His work is posted on YouTube, the NASA web site and at the space agency’s events.
For Cullen, it’s been the experience of a lifetime.
“I’m working hands-on in the subjects I’m studying at school and working with footage that is literally out of this world,” he says. “The atmosphere of my workplace is awesome, and I could not ask for a better group of people to work with. I am incredibly humbled by this experience and hope I will end up back at NASA after graduation.”
Jehanne-Marie Gavarini, chair of the Art & Design Department, is “very excited” for Cullen.
“An art major at NASA? It is a rare thing,” she says.
NASA may be known for a concentration of engineers, says Cullen, “but every company needs visuals.”
Cullen was always interested in his uncle’s job in NASA’s astronaut office. Years later, Cullen asked him about working there.
“We talked via email and phone calls for over a year and landed on the internship I now have. I applied online and got the call this summer.”
The internship began in August and runs through Dec. 9.
For Cullen, the pathway to a career in graphic arts was circuitous. He started college at UMass Amherst planning to earn a business degree, but over time, he began to question his goals. Then, one Christmas he got a GoPro camera.
“I think that’s what launched my creative career,” he says. “I was recording everything and making these little videos of my friends. I really enjoyed it. Soon I realized that I was wasting my time trying to be a business major when I could be increasing my knowledge in a field I actually enjoyed.”
He transferred to UMass Lowell to concentrate on graphic design.
“It’s been two years, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Art changed my life.”