JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Football isn’t rocket science.
Dobbs spent a month in a NFLPA externship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center earlier this year, and while he absorbed technical knowledge and was amazed at the innovative leaps happening every day, he also saw things that directly correlate to his sport.
While watching a live simulation of the process of loading a rocket with propellant, Dobbs said he was awed at the intricacies of the teamwork required for just one part of the totality required to launch a rocket into space. That’s no different from the process required to run one football play, Dobbs said -- on a significantly larger scale, of course.
“You’re in this big wide room with hundreds of monitors, and the people I was with in instrumentation take up the five monitors to the right,” Dobbs said. “Everyone else is working on a completely different subsystem of this rocket, and everyone has to be on the P’s and Q’s for the rocket to launch, for them to have a go for launch. So to be able to sit in there and see, OK, this correlates so much to football. ... You have 53 people, but everyone’s different. But everyone still has to understand their position and how it affects the big picture for something as little as a play to go right and then for the team to win.
“To see the dynamics, and it kind of is good to see them not in your normal everyday world of football. You’re able to see them in a different light, so you’re able to kind of rewire your mind to be able to apply those concepts to the football world.”
It makes sense Dobbs can find a way to correlate football to trying to launch a rocket into space because, well, he’s an actual rocket scientist. He graduated from Tennessee in 2017 with a degree in aerospace engineering -- with a perfect 4.0 GPA -- and that’s why he ended up spending February at Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Dobbs was planning an NFLPA externship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 2018, but the government shutdown and resulting furloughs in January 2018 nixed that plan. Scott Colloredo, a Tennessee grad and a deputy director of engineering at Kennedy Space Center, reached out to Dobbs via LinkedIn and asked whether he’d be interesting in coming to Florida instead. Dobbs accepted and spent February on the Space Coast.
He started in the instrumentation department for the mobile launcher, a structure used to support a large, multistage space vehicle, but ended up spending time in various other departments, becoming a bit of a celebrity in the process.
“As the news got around that an NFL quarterback engineer’s here at NASA for the month, I grew a little popularity so different people from across the space center were kind of pulling me [in different departments]," Dobbs said. "So it turned into, ‘Hey, here’s instrumentation, and here’s what it looks like’ to, ‘Here’s an overview of what we do at Kennedy Space Center.’
“It was an all-encompassing experience that was started from a small subset, and it kind of just grew as my time there went along.”
Dobbs said he was amazed at not only the technical engineering but also the way engineers and scientists are forced to create new ways of doing things or make things run more efficiently. He called it incredibly stimulating and a great way to see practical knowledge put into use.
“There’s so much innovation that’s going on, and it’s really interesting to be around the people and the engineers down there and learn and see how excited they are, but just also see how their mind works and see how they are addressing problems and how they critically solve them and apply their engineering concepts that they’ve learned,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs is also really excited about the Demo-2 mission, which was postponed Wednesday and rescheduled for Saturday, and the Artemis program. The Demo-2 mission is a partnership with SpaceX and will launch Americans to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. The Artemis program has the goal of putting the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 in preparation for an eventual trip to Mars.
Congrats to @NASA on this morning's successful launch to the @Space_Station!👏🏽 What an incredible experience going behind the curtains to work w/ America's brightest during my @NFLPA Externship at the @NASAKennedy. #AthleteAnd🏈🚀 @Jaguars @NFL @UTK_TCE @tennalum @Vol_Football pic.twitter.com/dDQhB64EdZ— Josh Dobbs (@josh_dobbs1) April 9, 2020
“We’re on the cusp of changing the projection of space exploration,” Dobbs said. “With this Artemis mission, if it goes as planned, you’re going to see us back to the moon in the next three to four years; you’ll see us shooting humans to Mars in the next eight years, which is unfathomable. So it is so close.
“And I don’t think people truly realize how close it is, but it is so close, and with the success of the phase one rocket that they’re working on right now, will really be a springboard for that mission to be even more within reach. It’s exciting. It truly is exciting.”
There’s one other member of the Jaguars organization who also is excited about it: Coach Doug Marrone. He has more of a personal reason, however.
“I’m a big memorabilia guy,” Marrone joked. “There’s stuff like that that have come from space that’s on auction sites that go for a lot of money, you know, so I’m always like, ‘Hey, Josh. They get you in space, buddy, we’ve got to make this profitable somehow.'"
Jokes aside, Marrone said he’s glad Dobbs was able to do the externship so he could get an idea of what he wants to do when his football career ends.
“Some of these guys are really doing some interesting things,” Marrone said. “When you talk to them about it, it’s pretty fascinating. I think that in this day and age, we put so much on sports and their ability to play on the field, and that’s only going to last so long. There’s some great stories with some of these players about how they’re preparing themselves for life after football, and we have a lot of little stories and Josh’s story is pretty interesting because there’s not very many people who can be where he is and get to do what he’s doing.”
On the field or at NASA.