Oldham and his wife, Jessica, stand in front of the Orion Ground Test Article. 


HARRISBURG — Joseph Oldham was a small-town boy with big goals and aspirations. Now he's working on a spacecraft that is set to travel to Mars.

A graduate of Southeastern Illinois College, Oldham currently lives near Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Jessica, and their young son, Oliver, and works for NASA’s primary contractor, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

Oldham and his team are developing the Orion spacecraft, which will be used for a U.S. mission to Mars. He said Orion is similar to the Apollo mission conducted in the 1960s and '70s. Oldham works as a structural dynamicist.

He explained his job by saying, “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.”

The Orion is scheduled to fly in 2018, and is currently undergoing assembly and testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As a child, Oldham was mesmerized by dinosaurs and space. 

After growing up in Shawneetown, Oldham graduated from Gallatin County High School in 1999. Several members of his family attended Southeastern Illinois College, and his aunt, Dr. Mary Jo Oldham, was a former president of the school. Because of this, it came as no surprise that Oldham decided to attend SIC in pursuit of an associate degree in pre-engineering.

After graduating from SIC in 2001 with honors and an associate degree in both science and engineering science, Oldham chose to further his education by finishing his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Mechanics at University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He then attended Bradley University, earning his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering Focus in Computational Mechanics.

“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,” Oldham said.

“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.”


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