O'Hanley '03 Helps Engineer Historic Falcon 9 Flight

Harry O'Hanley, a member of Shore's Class of 2003, is an engineer with the SpaceX team that launched and, for the first time in history, landed a reusable rocket returning from space.

An Ipswich native, O'Hanley works with designers, engineers, and fabrication specialists at the massive SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on the design and operations of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

On December 21, 2015, SpaceX's Falcon 9 delivered 11 satellites to low-Earth orbit and landed the first stage of the rocket back on land.

Profiled in the magazine of Milton Academy, which O'Hanley attended after Shore, he admits, "I really stumbled into this work.... I was always interested in engineering but had no intention of going into aerospace. [Then,] I interned at SpaceX in 2011, went to graduate school, and returned to SpaceX in 2013."

O'Hanley is what's known as a First Stage Responsible Engineer on Falcon 9. "My job is to design and develop the first-stage propulsion systems and provide launch support. I can be at the design phase ... or actually be driving the launch vehicle — that is, on the console, in mission control, monitoring the rocket, in Hawthorne or Cape Canaveral."

O'Hanley says working for SpaceX is exhilarating: "It’s the freedom and responsibility tension that I like the most. It gives me the sense that I control my own destiny. I work on high-tech Falcon rockets and having direct responsibility on the vehicle does it for me. Some cool stuff is going on here that isn’t going on elsewhere. There’s lots of responsibility throughout SpaceX; it’s a unique company. We’re involved in the next frontier."

When O'Hanley wrote about his Shore education a few years ago for the Shore website, he said there were two skills central to his achievements.

"First is fundamental mathematics: algebra and trigonometry. These form the foundation of both more advanced calculus and nearly all science and engineering endeavors. Second is the ability to communicate ideas clearly and concisely. This includes recognizing that sometimes a person must make his or her point in twenty pages, or a few pages, or simply a sentence or two. Understanding these constraints and adapting a presentation appropriately allows for efficient collaboration. While there are obviously many more aspects of engineering – or any profession – I believe these two competencies lie at the core of any technical skill set. 

"I clearly trace my education in these two areas straight back to my time at Shore. I distinctly remember my Upper School math classes. Today, each time I compute a sine or cosine, images of Mr. Vienot's class come back to me. Likewise, algebra and proofs often conjure memories of my time studying with Mr. Wright. I draw upon my math skills daily and these skills are intrinsically linked to my first courses at Shore. 

"While math is a clear basis for engineering, in many regards writing skills can be even more important. All too often great ideas falter because they are poorly communicated. I am very fortunate to have had a strong English education, which began with summer tutoring after fifth grade with Mrs. Harder and continued through the rest of my time at Shore. The simple skills of identifying a run-on sentence or properly using a pronoun become surprisingly important in writing technical publications. My confidence in writing stems directly from a grammatical competence with roots in Shore's English curriculum. When a student takes a course at Shore, that student gains a sound introduction to that subject. As such, time at Shore will always remain centrally ingrained in the student's mind. The high quality of Shore teachers across all departments results in Shore students being well prepared for the future."

After Shore, O'Hanley graduated from Milton Academy and from MIT, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and his Master of Science in Nuclear Science and Engineering.
    • Falcon 9 lands successfully in Cape Canaveral, FL

    • Harry O'Hanley

    • Falcon 9's launch

    • The booster lands