His sights are set on Mars, and also on meeting today’s biggest challenges
Story by Nancy Shohet West ’84
Matthieu Labaudiniere strikes a pose in front of a SpaceX spacecraft.
Though he designs future missions to Mars as a mechanical engineer at SpaceX, “I was never a space nerd as a kid,” confesses Matthieu Labaudinière ’11. In fact, the dance program is what first drew him to Concord Academy, and he spent far more time pursuing theater than any STEM subjects during his four years at CA. But he enjoyed math and was good at physics, two interests that led to a senior project converting a car to electric. “I realized I like problemsolving, and to me, engineering is a way of looking at the world such that you take complex problems, break them down into simpler pieces, and come up with a path forward based on logic and experience,” he says. “And engineering seemed like a more stable job path than theater.”
Labaudinière majored in mechanical engineering at McGill University in Montreal and then earned a master’s degree in advanced motorsport engineering at Cranfield University in England. There, he built on the skills he developed as an undergraduate on the McGill Racing Team, a student-run group in which teams compete to design, build, and race formula-style race car prototypes. “That was probably the most formative experience I’ve had from both an engineering and work ethic standpoint,” he says. “It’s very likely the reason I’m at SpaceX now.”
As a development engineer at Elon Musk’s flagship aerospace company, Labaudinière is working on the Dragon program, designing spacecraft that take crews to the International Space Station and function as a steppingstone to creation of a Mars-bound craft. His team designed the capsule in which four civilian astronauts made a historic three-day orbit around the Earth last September.
“At SpaceX, I work on very challenging problems in collaboration with a bunch of brilliant engineers,” he says. “When a solution emerges, SpaceX’s approach is ‘Build it; test it; fly it.’ Within my first six months of employment, I had hardware in space.”
Watching the launch of a space capsule he has designed, as he did last May with the Demo 2, is both thrilling and nerve-wracking, Labaudinière says: “You’ve gone through each of the parts you’re responsible for, each of the parts you’ve been involved in making, and you have a general understanding of the mission; you’ve done extensive qualification testing of systems and components, even conducted demo flights. But as you watch the rocket ascending, what’s always going through your mind is, ‘Oh man, I really hope this works.’”
Labaudinière says that going on a three-day orbit aboard the Dragon himself would be “sweet, though not necessarily in the cards”; traveling into space is not a high personal priority for him. In the future, he envisions turning his focus from space toward the earth—specifically green engineering.
“The biggest challenge we have in front of us as a society is climate change and everything that goes along with finding solutions in that realm,” he says. “From an engineering perspective, that’s a challenge I’d very much like to tackle next. What I value so much about the culture and engineering approach at SpaceX is that it fosters problem-solving driven by fundamentals. You can see this with engineers who have left to start other ventures, such as green construction materials made from hemp, AI train scheduling, and small nuclear reactors. I think this will help us address the pressing problems of our generation in novel ways.”
What I value so much about the culture and engineering approach at SpaceX is that it fosters problem-solving driven by fundamentals.
–Matthieu Labaudinière ’11