Nasa Engineer Ernie Prado


Ernie Prado was diagnosed with type 1 as a teenager and is now a project engineer at NASA. He has a terrific story and it’s not exactly what you’d expect. Ernie wasn’t a diabetes superstar who lived a perfect diabetes life all along. We’re so grateful he was generous enough to share the real story!

This is our first in a new series of “Classic Episodes.” In addition to our regular Tuesday episodes, we’ll bring you an additional episode like this every Thursday. What’s a classic episode? It’s an interview that aired a long time ago but isn’t dated in a way that takes away from the experience. We’ve been around for a while, so there’s a good chance you missed some of these back in 2015 or 2016.

Stacey first spoke to Ernie Prado in 2016 and he’s now the Project Engineer for something called the Super Guppy. He says it transports outsize spaceflight cargo in support of Artemis which will take the first woman and next man to the moon. Check it out here

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Episode Transcription:

Stacey Simms  0:00

This episode of Diabetes Connections is brought to you by Inside the Breakthrough, a new history of science podcast full of digital stuff with quite a few laughs along the way.


Announcer  0:15

This is Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.


Stacey Simms  0:21

Welcome to a Classic episode of Diabetes Connections, something a little new this year. But as always, we aim to educate and inspire by sharing stories of connection with a focus on people who use insulin. I am your host, Stacey Simms, and I am really glad that you are here.

So I said something new starting this week in 2021. In addition to our regular Tuesday episodes, I’m going to be bringing you an additional episode like this on Thursdays. So what is a classic episode, it is an interview that has already aired a long time ago, but it is still what we would call evergreen. It’s not dated in a way that takes away from listening to it. Now we have a lot of episodes. We’ve been around for a while. So there is a good chance that you missed some of these interviews back in 2015, or 2016. And these are really interesting, fun people and I wanted to bring their stories to a wider audience.

This week, you are going to hear the story of a NASA engineer, a rocket scientist who lives with type one. Ernie Prado has a really great story. But it’s not exactly what you would expect. He wasn’t a diabetes superstar who lived a perfect diabetes life all along. And I’m really grateful that he was generous enough to share the real story you will hear from Ernie in just a moment.

But first, these classic episodes are brought to you by a brand new podcast. And this is pretty cool to have a sponsor who is also a podcast. So let me tell you all about this. This is inside the breakthrough. A new history of science podcast full of Did you know stuff like did you know Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were really good buddies. They even work together on an electric car, and it still failed. Episode One dives into stories including Archimedes yelling Eureka while naked in the streets and Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin by accident inside the breakthrough was created by SciMar SciMar is a group of Canadian researchers dedicated to changing the way we detect, treat and even reverse type two diabetes.

This show is historical wisdom mixed with modern insight with quite a few laughs along the way. I’ve listened to it. It’s a great show really high production value, great host and great information search for inside the breakthrough anywhere you listen to podcasts and at Diabetes

It has been almost five years since I first spoke to Ernie. What is he doing now? He is the project engineer for something called the super Guppy. It sounds funny, but this thing is really amazing. I’ll put a photo and a story behind it in the Diabetes Connections Facebook group, Ernie tells me it transports outsize spaceflight cargo in support of Artemis, which will take the first woman and next man to the moon. So pretty important job really interesting stuff. And I think as you listen to this interview, you’ll see that Ernie is really where he wants to be. Please remember, this podcast is not intended as medical advice. If you have those kinds of questions, please contact your health care provider. So here is my interview with NASA’s Ernie Prado from June of 2016.

Ernie, thank you so much for making some time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it. Yeah, before we get to the rocket science and NASA and everything that’s going on now, take me back to the beginning you were diagnosed with Type One Diabetes at the age of 15. Did you know at that point, that you wanted to have some kind of career with the space program?


Ernie Prado  3:55

Oh, yeah. So my life goal, I guess when I was younger, I was always drawn to space and airplanes. And my mom said, I cry if I didn’t watch Star Trek when I was like four. So I wanted to be an astronaut. And before that I wanted to be a fighter pilot and fly f 18. So I was always drawn towards this and my goal was to end up in space.


Stacey Simms  4:18

Well, you were diagnosed, as I said, age 15. The diagnosis was about, let’s say 15 years ago, you’re you’re 29 you’re 30


Ernie Prado  4:26

Yeah, it’s half half my life now. Yeah. Um,


Stacey Simms  4:31

what did the doctor tell you at that point was that you have type one. And you’re never going to do these things that you always wanted to do? Or was it a little bit more kind?


Ernie Prado  4:41

So actually, the past few months, I’ve been trying to figure out the exact date I was diagnosed just because, you know, I’ve been reading about folks and a lot of folks have a die of diversity. And I kind of was trying to figure out mine. And I’ve been thinking about that actually contacted the hospital. And unfortunately, I don’t have the records. More, but I don’t remember the doctor saying, you know, you’re not gonna be able to do a lot of this. I feel like I’ve encountered more that, you know, outside of maybe the medical community. So I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a medical study from with FA and utmb about trying to get folks of chronic conditions like diabetes into space through companies like Virgin Galactic, and XCOR. And so I got to go into centrifuge. And that’s pretty cool thing for diabetics to do. I did encounter some resistance when I was trying to become a flight controller. And so at the time, I had other projects coming up, so I kind of, you know, let that go to the wayside. But I haven’t stopped me from doing most of the things I wanted to do. Maybe a few, but I try to find ways around it and still do them anyway.


Stacey Simms  5:52

Yeah, and I want to talk more about that. I’m just trying to kind of figure out what this was like for teenage you. Because that’s a tough time anyway, and to be diagnosed at age 15. When you’re hopefully, you know, you’re busy with a lot of other things. Do you remember what it was like at that point in your life to make that kind of change?


Ernie Prado  6:10

Yeah, it was really hard, actually. So I came to accept that a lot more about the time I was 18. I was about three years after those first three years were a little bit difficult. Because, unfortunately, and you know, I love my mom to death, but she kind of told me not to talk about my diabetes, and to not let people know I had it. And over the years, I’ve realized that was a little bit, not probably not the best method to approach it. And so I dealt with it on my own a lot or just with support at home and from my family. You know,


Stacey Simms  6:44

I’m sorry to interrupt. I’ve heard that from other people that at, it seems like a better idea to try to avoid discrimination, ignorance by kind of just keeping it to yourself, is that maybe what your mother was trying to do?


Ernie Prado  6:59

I think so. And, you know, I think she did with the best intentions. But it was, it was really difficult to not talk about something that I considered So in general, about myself, because it was kind of thrust on me and said, hey, you’re earning now you’re diabetic, and, you know, it was through no fault of my own, it just happened. So it would be the same thing, as you know, having like a really strong interest in you know, like space, I wouldn’t be able to hide that. I didn’t want to hide the fact that I was out back. When I got to college, I started telling everybody and you know, I’ve continued that. But it was difficult, you know, to try to explain why I wasn’t eating certain things around my friends, or why couldn’t go out sometimes, or why I had to stop playing football and wrestling and all that. So it was a, I’d say it was a pretty good difficult time in my teenage years.


Stacey Simms  7:49

And you had to stop playing sports was that because of I’m gonna just guess, because your mom was not comfortable? Or was it something that happened?


Ernie Prado  7:57

Yeah, partly that. And my first doctor, I think, you know, in the abundance of caution said, you know, you might want to take it off for a little bit and learn about your diabetes and how to manage it. And it might have been understood as he shouldn’t be playing sports anymore. But depressing. Yeah.


Stacey Simms  8:18

Well, okay, so you get to college. You’re you. You’re telling everybody you have diabetes, what you study in college, were you now going ahead with the engineering with the career in space program?


Ernie Prado  8:31

Yeah, absolutely. So when I got to college, actually declared my major before getting except for as soon as I got accepted, I believe. And I chose to pursue a double major in aeronautical sciences and engineering, and then mechanical engineering. Because I figured, you know, if maybe right now, I can’t fly, or do what I want. I’m going to get involved somehow at NASA. And luckily enough, it ended working out. And I kept my majors throughout. And I tried to add a minor and do some pre med stuff, but I ran out of time and money, so I didn’t get that.


Stacey Simms  9:03

And were you able to go to work for NASA right away? Where’d you go to work? Um,


Ernie Prado  9:08

so yeah, I was very fortunate. I began working at NASA as a co op at the age of 20. So it was my sophomore year in college, and I’ve been here since. So it’s been about eight and a half a while on this cluster nine years. I’ve been out here. And so full time for about a little over five years now, though, for the first few years, I went between school and working here at Johnson Space Center. And I think in total of my college time was about a year and a half out here. So I really got my degrees in about three and a half years. Although I was in Davis for five years.


Stacey Simms  9:39

What was it like? And maybe this moment happened when you were as you said, you were 20 and you went to work there but you’re still in college, or maybe it happened after? What was it like when you walked into NASA and realized I am going to be here, at least in this capacity.


Ernie Prado  9:55

So I’m kind of smiling like I believe right now. Remember that first day I mean, I’d never been to Johnson Space Center before, you know, being hired here. I’ve been at Kennedy Space Center with my dad, that was my graduation gift from high school, he took me there and in his big truck, and we tried to see a launch of, I believe, is STS 114, which was returned to fly and Stephen Robinson was going to launch that mission, which he was an Aggie from UC Davis. And that’s where I was going to school. Then hurricane Ernesto roll through, me and my dad are both named Ernesto, and it hit a lightning tower. So they delayed the launch, and I didn’t get to see it. But then, you know, a few years down the road, showing up here and saying, Man, I’m walking the same like ground, the astronauts have walked in flight controllers, and all these people in history. It was this really cool sense of I can’t believe it. And I still kind of get that pretty often. It’s a really cool job.


Stacey Simms  10:55

It’s so amazing when you get to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. That’s a great story. I love hearing that. I was reading an article that the writer and author Moira McCarthy wrote about you more has been on the show a couple of times already. And she talked about I guess you told her, there was a point at which you realize that, you know, diabetes was something that you needed to kind of pay more attention to, during your time at NASA. Can you tell me a little bit about that?


Ernie Prado  11:29

Yeah, so I guess that happened. Because I was working at the NBL, which is the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. It’s our big environment for it was a gigantic pool, 6.2 million gallons. And it’s the environment where we train astronauts at a spacewalk. Typically, if you’re a co-op, in that building, you as a guest, at the end of your rotation, you get to dive in this big pool, which has a mock up of the space station in it. So it’s this amazing, cool, cool thing to do. And my A1C was at 13.9. so incredibly high. I wasn’t taking care of myself, just because I was stressed at school and more focused on getting good grades and kind of in a, I knew I had to diabetes, and I couldn’t get rid of it. But I guess, and even though I told people, I wasn’t accepting it, so my mindset was, well, you know, if I don’t think about it, I don’t have to deal with it. And that was a very poor mindset to have. So once they told me, Well, you know, your sugar is not controlled, you’re not gonna be able to dive in this pool. I was, it was kind of a wake up call. And I was going to Well, that’s a real bummer, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be here again. Or if I have this opportunity again. And so unfortunately, I didn’t get to dive in the pool. But I had a very cool boss, he said, Well, you’re still scuba certified. And although the medical folks won’t sign off on you to do this, you can still snorkel the pool. So that’s exactly what I did. I had my snorkel and I got to go about six feet deep in a 40 foot deep pool, I would have loved to sit on the floor and have my UC Davis flag. But, you know, I still got to hover above the mockups of the Space Station. And actually, there was two astronauts in there when I dove, I think it was Lincoln and Patrick, from STS 130. And I got to see them practicing for their spacewalk that they would do. And then later on, when I was back at school, I got to see them through the spacewalk in space, and I was going, I got to be in that tank with them. So I got I still got to experience it, luckily. But that was the point where not taking care of myself almost hindered something really cool that I could have done.


Stacey Simms  13:29

Okay, so I have a dumb question for you. They learn to spacewalk or they practice spacewalk in in a pool.


Ernie Prado  13:35

Yeah, so it’s interesting, you want to think that you learn how to do space walking in a pool. When you’re in orbit, you’re in microgravity. And you’re basically falling at the same rate as gravity, so you kind of just float. And so what the pools can simulate is the weightlessness. What it doesn’t simulate is the resistance to movement. So in space, there is no atmosphere. So you can move very easily with very low friction. In comparison to work in a tank, you know, full of water, you have a lot of friction, when you try to move, it’s kind of like when you extend your arm and try to swim in the pool. It’s very difficult to do. So you can’t simulate that, but the weightlessness portion you can. And they do that by attaching weights or foam on to the spaces that are in the pool, and you become neutrally buoyant, hence the name of the laboratory. So you don’t sink in, you don’t float just kind of hover there in one space and water. And so you actually can’t even swim. If you can translate along the mock up or along the space station mock up with the hand rails on like you would on orbit. But if you need to go from one location to another, and you don’t have anything to grab onto divers have to come and move you.


Stacey Simms  14:40

Wow. That’s amazing. What made you decide Do you remember when you were younger? You said earlier your mom said you got upset if you couldn’t watch Star Trek at age four. Okay, first of all next generation or original Star Trek? Very important question,


Ernie Prado  14:55

I believe, I think next generation but I like them all. Now. And when they come on, I will watch them. So I’m a big fan. Anything space related? And I’m in love with.


Stacey Simms  15:07

It’s funny but but what would you remember what got you really excited about it as a kid? Was there anything you can think back on and say that, you know, you just really wanted to go into space? We were fascinated by the planets. I’m always curious what, what sparks a passion in someone?


Ernie Prado  15:23

So I feel like that’s the hardest question to ask. And it’s typically one of the ones that is asked, because it is an interesting thing. But you know, and you always hear the folk folk say, I just got the space bug, and it’s kind of like this thing that just happens. So I do remember loving planets, loading stars, loving spaceships, is kind of everything about that. I’m not sure exactly what did I just think I was fascinated. There’s one moment that kind of stands out to me, that was pretty neat. And it was this. eight and a half by 11, kind of photo of the first few shuttle astronauts are john young and Bob Crippen, and they were in their orange pumpkin suits. And I just remember looking at that, you know, at the time, I drew on the back and wrote my name, and like pink highlighter, and going, Wow, these folks are really cool. They get to go into space. And it didn’t really dawn on me just how cool their job was, for some reason that picture always stands out in my mind. And then, you know, at 21, about a year after I started working here, I actually got to meet john young and shake his hand. Oh, wow. And, you know, so he was the commander of the first shuttle flight. But he also flew in Gemini, and then Apollo and he walked on the moon. So I shook the hand of a Moonwalker. And then that kind of like, is what threw me back to that memory of that of that picture going, whoa, that’s really cool.

And, you know, I think my dad probably has something to do with it, because he was in love with the shuttle program. And he told me about, you know, driving loads in his truck over to, I think, Edwards Air Force Base and Palmdale when they were building enterprise, which was tested shuttle for kind of clarity, and never flew into space. But it did the approach and landing test, and he has pictures of it, you know, back before the real shuttle ever flew. And then I remember asking him, did you ever think you’d have a kid that worked for NASA? And he said, No. Probably some of his interest rubbed off on me.


Stacey Simms  17:15

That’s great. You mentioned earlier, a couple of things I wanted to go through. You mentioned that you were in a centrifuge. Yeah. Tell me about that. What was that was that for testing. And I mean, that’s just that’s one of my nightmares, to be honest with you. So tell me all about that.


Ernie Prado  17:30

So that was a really awesome experience that happened about three years ago, the commercial space tourism industry is starting to come up, it’s still very young, but they need to do your research on how a more average person will fare in the environment of elevated g loads and weightlessness. And so they need to gather data right now, you know, most of the folks that go up into space are I consider them superhuman, these people can take all kinds of abuse, and they’re in peak physical health. But that’s not everybody that would be interested in going in space. So as they start to open up this market, folks have back problem and lung issues and diabetes and heart problems. They want to understand how they will react to the forces and weightlessness and the stresses that it puts on their body. So one of my friends sent me a link that was saying that, you know, recruiting folks with these kind of conditions, to see how they will fare and I was like, amen. So I went and applied. And before even getting selected, they said, these are the weekends that you would come Are you available, I went and bought my tickets, before I was even approved. And so I showed up to the doctor for my physical, and he goes, Okay, well, you’re good to go. And I said, often he goes, what we can do on goal is, like, already bought tickets, and the doctor just looked at me incredulously and goes, what you didn’t know, you’d be if you’d be approved? And I said, Well, I love Southwest, because you can still use those funds towards another flight. He goes, Okay, well, you get to go on that weekend.

So I flew out to Pennsylvania, and it was the NASCAR facility. And this is like, a really incredible facility where they train pilots, you know, how to survive these incredible maneuvers that they perform, and jet aircraft and, you know, folks that are hoping to go to space and just training for a variety of things that includes stresses on the body. So they stuck me in this centrifuge. And I had another participant there with me, who was a former F15 pilot, which is just the coolest thing ever. And they subjected us to the flight profile of the XCore link and the Virgin Galactic spaceship two, or one I believe at the time. And so I think I peaked at about seven and a half G’s for about 15 seconds or so. But you went through the profiles and got to see how it would be the experience of spaceflight. And so they put you through the asset and the decent, not so much the weightlessness portion, but it’s very interesting to see just how much it affects you. My sugar levels were good, but I was so tired because you have to flex your entire body to prevent from blacking out and there’s specialized breathing techniques to keep kind of pressure in the lungs and just to maintain how Consciousness. So luckily, I had a very experienced person there with me who taught me, you know, this is how you how you hold your breath, or this is how you flex all your muscles at once. And I did, they seem to think that I did very well. And it was a really cool enjoyable experience, and a video of it and pictures and probably something that I’ll never forget, I was just so neat.


Stacey Simms  20:19

Were they very interested in your blood sugar particularly did they measure that throughout?


Ernie Prado  20:24

So I measured it before and after, you know, a few times during the day. I didn’t have my CGM at the time, I didn’t have it available to me. But I wasn’t worrying because the needle kind of hurt a bit. It was one of the older ones, just painful. So I kind of was avoiding it. So I did the finger pricks. And yeah, my sugar levels maintained pretty well, they said, you know, keep a little bit higher than normal. So that way you don’t tank and so I think I was staying around like the 170s or so. But it didn’t affect me at all. And I think I was playing around going that this was the first instance of an insulin pump going through that kind of G load. And it probably should have told because


Stacey Simms  21:00

that was my next question. Did you do you worry your pump during


Ernie Prado  21:03

this? Yeah. And I didn’t capitalize on it.


Stacey Simms  21:07

What kind of pump? Do you Where did you were at the time.


Ernie Prado  21:10

So at the time, I was wearing my Medtronic, and I think it was the 720 paradigm. And it performed pretty well. I mean, I still have the same pump right now it’s lying on my counter, because I’ve switched to a Tslim. But it’s survived it just fine. And it performed perfectly after that. And apparently during. So that actually would probably would have provided some really cool data to that team. And I just didn’t make the connection at the time, unfortunately.


Stacey Simms  21:39

Well, you had other things to think about. And it’s interesting that they didn’t ask I mean, that’s, you know, that’s just one of those things where they’re, they’re studying people with diabetes. You know, I would assume they looked at all of that, but the upshot was that you were just pretty much really worn out.


Ernie Prado  21:51

Yeah, I was, it was, I was surprised how tired it was. Because I think throughout the it was two days, and I think throughout each day, maybe 15 to 30 minutes of that day, we’re you know, the elevated g loads. And I went home and or to my hotel, and I just asked all those exhausted because you don’t realize it but you’re working out every single muscle in your body for that short timeframe. And it actually takes a lot of energy others. And you know, Bobby, the guys that said that you eventually get used to it, you know, once you’re fighting jet, and you were a GC to help put pressure on your body, and it helps do some of that work for you. But we didn’t have any of that equipment.


Stacey Simms  22:31

You talked very early on in the interview about flying about I think you said flying F18s. Is that something that you would like to be doing? Or is that something that you have done?


Ernie Prado  22:40

I’ve never gotten to fly an F18. So that’s a military jet that the Navy uses, you know, as one of their fleet. And so that’s like a dream of mine still at this point. But you know, I mean, even any other military jet would be incredible.


Stacey Simms  22:58

Do you fly? I mean, I dumb question. Are you do you have a pilot’s license? Do you fly at all?


Ernie Prado  23:03

I don’t. I’ve gotten some stick time before on several. What are they called? The word is escaping


Stacey Simms  23:12

like a simulator.


Ernie Prado  23:14

And then I’ve flown simulators I’ve even flown the shuttle simulator. That was a lot of fun. But, like so in college, or the stick time on a Cessna 152 or 172. So they’re single engine, you know, planes basically. And so they’re they’re not advanced, like, you know, the jets that fly like that. So I’ve gotten to do that. I am fortunate cam and gotten a pilot’s license just because a it’s really expensive. It’s several $1,000 that I just haven’t had to put towards that. But eventually, I’d love to do it. You can get a a pilot’s license, private pilot’s license, there we go. That’s what I was looking for. As a diabetic, you just have to show good control of your blood sugar for about six months prior and maintain that. So you can pass the class to physical. And you can also get I believe in experimental pilot’s license, but you can’t make money from flying as a diabetic, at least that I know of as a type one, because they’re concerned with the liability of. And I believe the terms were subtle incapacitation, and sudden incapacitation. And if you have cargo or humans, you know that you’re responsible for the really big risk. And so that’s my understanding of why you can’t do that. And same reason for the military, because then you’d be putting other folks at risk if you know if something happens to you.


Stacey Simms  24:32

And in what context, though, and I apologize because I wrote down, F18 that I don’t remember we were talking about trying to get more good people with diabetes to be able to fly more.


Ernie Prado  24:44

Oh, so definitely F18 is just one of the planes that I really love the beautiful they’re so over powerful and they’re just, they’re sleek, and they’re so cool until the Navy flies over them on carriers, you know, and actually have a buddy or two that flying is just kind of jealous. But no. So as far as I know, you probably would not have a type one diabetic find those, especially, you know, they’re just not available in the civilian world. And since we can’t join the military at the moment, and probably for the foreseeable future, there’s, you can probably fly backseat, you know, as a passenger, but not as the pilot. But you know, I do, there’s apparently a stunt pilot that does fly, you know, his personal aircraft at AIR shows. And he performs some really amazing stunts. So we can fly is just, it’s a limited set of aircraft.


Stacey Simms  25:36

And you want to be a flight controller, you said, what is what is that job is that one of the guys that sits where we see the movies, you know, see the Apollo movies, they’re sitting in the, in the back home on the front of the computer? What is that?


Ernie Prado  25:49

Yeah, so that’s kind of the image that’s conjured up when flight controller is talking to. So we have, so shuttle, and ISS and Apollo and Mercury and Gemini, they’ve all had flight controllers. And basically, if I controller that helps monitor the systems onboard spacecraft, make sure that everything is going fine for the crew members try to keep them safe, address real time problem. So it’s a whole host of responsibilities. And so there’s an entire team that does this, and it’s going 24 seven, so there’s always somebody monitoring the spacecraft, and it’s fine. And there’s Capcom, which talks to the crew, there’s a flight director who’s responsible for the mission. One of the disciplines that I can talk about is also which is operations support officer. And that’s the group that I was in. They are responsible for mechanisms, maintenance, and things of that nature. There’s then there’s other groups such as Prop, which is propulsion. And so they all have different responsibilities. And but yeah, so those folks have, you know, responsibility over the crew safety, and, you know, to help them perform science, when they’re in space, and just help maintain that aircraft or spacecraft.

And one of the terms that they use to describe a flight controller is a steely eyed missile man. And it’s a throwback back to the early days of flight when we actually put astronauts on modified ICBMs and shove them up into space. So, yeah, I was trying to do that. I was working halftime in that group and halftime at the space vehicle mock up facility, which is where I still work now. That’s where we train astronauts for the inside of the space station, and I had a big project coming up. And at the same time, I was trying to see if I could become flight controller. And I encountered some resistance from the medical side, because they were concerned about, you know, my ability to handle the stresses. And so I did have support from upper management saying that if I had the technical knowledge and know how and competent that they would support me in trying to still become flight controller. But Tom had this really cool project to create the note three mock up, that was, you know, had a large budget, and it was high visibility and a long term schedule. So I kind of gravitated towards that. And it was really cool, because it culminated in me getting to brief the ISS program manager on this mock up, bill for the ability, and I never thought I get the, you know, speak to a person like that. So that was very cool for a person that only been around as a full timer for about two years.


Stacey Simms  28:31

Yeah, and that sounds pretty amazing. This is kind of a silly question. But it’s in my head after I mentioned the Apollo 13. In the movies, we watch movies like that, can you walk, can you watch movies like that? I can,


Ernie Prado  28:42

and I enjoy them. And so actually, this is this one’s pretty cool. And we saw the co op, you get to do a lot of neat things, visit the historical sites and talk to historical people are influential people. So we actually watched Apollo 13, in the Mission Control Room where Apollo 13 was controlled. Wow, that was one of the coolest things that I’ve done. And I took a picture of the console that I was sitting at, and that same wall, a replica of that console was in the movie on the screen. And so I was showing both of them on one picture, and I was going, this is cool. One thing that I tend to do is point out the errors about that, and my friends are like just enjoy the movie. But it’s it’s kind of fun. And it’s a little bit of the you know, the nitpick Enos of actually what’s going on and that’s wrong, this is wrong. But the the movies are good at inspire folks, and they get them interested in space. And be there just enjoyable, you know, it’s what got me interested in it in the first place. And without that, you know, you wouldn’t interest other folks. So like, for instance, gravity, that movie was just beautifully done with the cinematography. I mean, it’s just incredible. And it sucks you in but there was a few technical details or are lovable and that’s not quite right. Right. But overall, they’re really I love watching them.


Stacey Simms  30:03

That’s great. You know, and when we think about the space program, and you’ve mentioned Gemini and Apollo in the beginning of the space shuttle, and that’s when I was a kid, the space shuttle was what was new, and it was so exciting. And it seemed like a few years ago, that Americans might not be that excited about space anymore. You know, the funding was going down, and people weren’t talking about it. And then you have things like Scott Kelly’s year in space that he just returned from where he was tweeting all these pictures out and getting people interested again, and we have, you know, the the interest in Mars and different projects. Do you feel like it’s on an upswing again?


Ernie Prado  30:35

Oh, yeah, definitely. And that’s such a heartening thing. So I was lucky and got to work a little bit during the time of shuttle that got the Washington Actually, this is a really cool experience that I just remembered right now, because you were talking about how you were around, you know, during the beginning of shuttle in 1981, which is the first launch. And if you haven’t heard the video, or seen the music video, actually, countdown by rush, I highly suggest it for anybody. They attended the first launch of the shuttle Columbia, and they put together this just amazing video that kind of makes my hair stand on that when I watch it, because it’s just so cool. And it’s like, it’s just really powerful. And I got to watch the last shuttle launch, not in person to hear Johnson Space Center and Sony Williams, who’s an astronaut was right there, kind of next to me and a few other folks. And you know, she was an astronaut that has flown on the shuttle, and it was just kind of really cool to see her emotions for the final flight of the program, when it was closed out. So that was that was a cool experience. And seeing the the, I guess, resurgence or like the increasing enthusiasm about what we’re doing is just so cool. And, you know, we can go out and advertise for ourselves, we really just kind of rely on the science that we put out to benefit, you know, every day portions of our lives. And spin off that influence people. So you know, a lot of folks on being NASA influences them, or their lives.

But you know, a lot of the technology that’s around it has some that NASA influence. And so you know, movies like The Martian, and the mission that we just did with Scott Kelly are so cool, and so, so essential to keep folks interested in what we’re doing. So it really does, it makes you feel proud of the work that you do and makes you want to do it better. Because really everything we do is for the benefit of our country and just afford, you know, knowledge for humanity. And that’s, that’s our entire mission is to learn about where we are and what’s out in the cosmos. And it’s really great to see people, you know, start to feel great about that.


Stacey Simms  32:49

And when you talk about the things that come from the space program that are relatable, I mean, you know, it’s kind of jokey like oh, Tang, but you know, all the things that we use in everyday life didn’t the insulin pump wasn’t that developed, I thought I read a while ago, that part of it was developed because of NASA.


Ernie Prado  33:07

So I’m gonna have to check my history on that, because I’m not exactly sure exactly how we have impacted that. But if you look at some of the broader history, not just insulin pumps, integrated circuits were influenced by, you know, NASA engineers and advancements in technology. And, you know, coding and signals and mechanics and all sorts of things. So in a broad way, I’m sure it was benefited Somehow,


Stacey Simms  33:36

I just, we took a tour of the we took a tour a couple years ago of the Kennedy Space Center. And I remember them saying that because we all went What? So I’ll look that up. I’ll fact check that before we put that Yeah,


Ernie Prado  33:48

I’d be very interested in learning more about that. That would be so cool. And I can’t believe I haven’t looked into it already. If I taught you something, I’d be so excited that you did


Stacey Simms  33:59

and say, Oh, you know, talk to a rocket scientist. Didn’t know something I knew. But let’s get back to diabetes. When if we could. How are you doing now? I mean, you mentioned you struggled when you were in college and as a young adult, are you? Do you feel like you have incorporated more into your everyday life? You do? Okay.


Ernie Prado  34:19

Yeah. So I actually, as soon as you asked that, I looked at my pump, and I’m currently at 119. And I’ve been in my perfect range here for see at least three hours, six hours, 12 hours ago had a little blip above 224 hours, I had a little blip about 250. So I’m doing pretty good. You


Stacey Simms  34:36

were nervous. You were nervous about talking to me. Oh,


Ernie Prado  34:39

not at all. I do manage it a lot better. My A1C is not perfect. It’s not eight right now. My goal is to get it down to those 7.5. But you know, using the CGM and you know, actually, you know, checking my my sugar with pricking my finger, you know, four to five times a day. It does help. Sometimes it can be hard to get the point Five times, or five times to check it in one day, but you know, I try to make it a priority as it should be. And really not try to brush it off at all, you know, I’ll be fine, because it really does have a huge impact on my life and so levina looking to do is get back to work and out if you went back out about a year ago, and it kind of delayed me in that process. So I’ve started to start to do that a little bit more. So that’s helping, and, you know, trying to eat better, has also helped. And, you know, I, I don’t really drink a lot of alcohol, which, you know, also does help keep the numbers controlled, though I’m doing much better than it was in college. Because there was one point where I didn’t check my sugar for four months. And when I think about that, now I’m going What in the world was I thinking?


Unknown Speaker  35:51

Yeah, well, you know, I and


Stacey Simms  35:53

I asked that question not, and I appreciate you sharing numbers. And I always feel really nosy when that happens, but but it just sounds to me like somehow you’ve gotten from that college kid who didn’t want to check it. All right. And I appreciate you saying that, too. Because that’s reality that happens to somebody who’s now really accepted this and and doing your best was what you got?


Ernie Prado  36:14

Yeah. And, you know, I figured it’s not going anywhere. Am I still frustrated about it? And sometimes wonder, you know why this happened, of course. But, you know, I’m trying, you look at the positive aspect of it. And so actually, you know, like Sarah Sanders, and I had, luckily had a chance to meet her. And I read her book and talk to her about it. And her view on it was just so positive. And just, you know, a woman make the best of this, that it had a huge impact on me. And you know, I’ve been more accepting of it. In the past few years, I remember when I first got my pump I was all excited about us showed everybody. So being in control of it also helped me be a lot more accepting of it. You know, when it was my numbers were out of range. I didn’t want to think about it. And I didn’t want to talk and advocate and teach people but I was just like, kind of burned out. So it’s actually kind of like this cyclical thing where the better control you take of it, the more accepting you are, and the more you want to educate and get, hopefully, influence other people that have to do the same. And I’m not sure exactly how that works. It seems to be a strange tie. But yeah, I just, you know, I probably talked too much about it now. I think, folks, okay, or you get it, but yeah, I think it’s great. Yeah,


Stacey Simms  37:34

I just jump in and say for now, I should jump in and say Sierra Sandison, if you’re not familiar with her is of course, Miss Idaho. She were insulin pump in the Miss America Pageant. I think it was two years ago, starting the show me your pump, social media movement, how did you meet her?


Ernie Prado  37:50

So she came down to the ADA convention in Houston. And, you know, I’d heard about her a few years ago, because of why she did wearing the pump on her, on her on her body when she was getting the pageant, and I was just thinking, that is so cool. You know, she’s old enough, or, you know, being proud of, of being diabetic. And I guess I hadn’t ever thought of it in that perspective. And I was just like, you know, I really kind of admire that that’s so cool that she’s, and you know, just a response how parents are like, you know, you help my kid feel like that it’s okay to be diabetic. And thinking back to the early days, and I had it and where I was told kind of young, just don’t talk about it. It was it was really just a nice feeling. That’s good to have that kind of inspiration for other folks. And so I said, Well, I will buy your book, read it. I’m a little hyper sided. I want to talk to her just because she seems really cool. And so I talked to her for probably God, who knows half hour at least. And so we ended up being, you know, friends on Twitter, and all that stuff. And so she’s been, you know, a really cool person to know. And, you know, just somebody that I kind of look up to just for being such a role model for diabetics, and raising advocacy for it and all that.


Stacey Simms  39:09

That’s fantastic. I love hearing that. And we talked to Sierra last year on the podcast, and she’s just, she’s just terrific. And she’s also you know, she’s this it will see in her words, I think she’s like a real math and science geek too. She’s really cool that way.


Ernie Prado  39:24

Yeah, I think she’s actually chosen to pursue engineering, which I was just like, Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. If you ever need any help with with yourself or college, let me know. Because, like, I mean, you know, you got the common thing of diabetes that then you know, whenever I meet an engineer, I’m like, Hey, cool, you know, the pain in college, you’ve been through it. So I always like to encourage more engineers and get them into the into the STEM fields just you know, cuz we need that talent. And it’s really cool to see folks be passionate about the stuff that dorks like, like myself, you know, like math and science, chemistry and all that. So Yo, it’s awesome. We need more dorks.


Stacey Simms  40:03

All right, so what’s next for you? What’s next for you at NASA? What are you doing now? Where would you like to be in a few years?


Ernie Prado  40:11

So that’s always kind of a hard question for me to answer.


Stacey Simms  40:15

I feel like it’s a job interview. I didn’t mean to phrase it like, yeah,


Ernie Prado  40:17

oh, no, it’s okay. It’s the way I think of it. I’m the type of person that kind of sets a goal. I don’t know how in the world, I’m going to get there. But somehow I tried to chart my path. And so it seemed to work out in several instances for me, so I keep taking that approach. Currently, I’m a market manager, project manager at the svms. And so I lead technical projects to build mock ups, improve them, upgrade them to approve engineering activities and training activities, I lead with outside companies, other centers, divisions, and directorates. So it’s kind of this big catch, catch all integration job. And I get to meet a lot of cool, interesting people and, you know, still get to use my technical background for projects, but also get to learn about the management side of the house. So you know, dealing with budgets, and, you know, managing a project. So that was something I didn’t learn in school, and it’s a cool skill to learn.


And, you know, the first few years, it was a trial by fire because I had no idea what I was doing, I was in the technical background. So currently, I’ve been involved in an agency project about how to apply models, a systems engineering, to the projects that we’re doing. And it’s an approach that kind of takes a consolidated view of projects, including cost development, schedule, requirements, activities, you name it, everything goes into one single source of truth. So that that’s a neat project. And it will be reported to the agency headquarters here, by the end of the year, I really don’t know where I see myself at though, I know, I’d like to continue here. And just keep being involved. And, you know, giving my small contribution to, to what I think is man’s greatest mankind’s greatest endeavor, you know, it’s just an honor to be here and contribute to something. So I think scran and you’re working amongst these, you know, so many folks that have a passion for what we do, and just they’re so bright and talented. And, you know, I consider myself an average person here at you know, because there’s so many bright folks out here. So, like I said, it’s a hard question, eventually, if I can try to fly some knowledge base on down, and I will try to do that. I can. That’s one of my goals. Right now. I don’t know how it’s gonna be achieved. But you know, I’m gonna work towards it. Yeah.


Stacey Simms  42:37

Let me ask you one more diabetes question. Ah, there are a phrase this, what would you say to somebody, maybe a 15 year old kid, maybe somebody older who’s diagnosed with type one and is told, I’m sorry, but the dream you had, is not going to work out? At least not now. You are so positive about things. I’m curious, you know, how do you get past that? And what would you advise somebody else to think about if they’re told, I’m sorry, but you just can’t,


Ernie Prado  43:04

because of diabetes. So I’d say you know, at first, it’s a little bit of a blow. Because some, it’s something that’s out of your control. So one of my friends who’s a pilot said, you know, you’d be a shoo in, in the Air Force to be a pilot, because of your technical background, it sucks that you can’t do it, because you’re diabetic. And I was just like, I remember going. That’s depressing. Um, but, you know, there, I think there are realistically some things that we probably can’t do. And realistically, there’s others that, you know, we’re just told we can’t, but we absolutely can. And so I would say, you know, fight an uphill battle, don’t give up and try every single Avenue available, to try to do what you want to do. Because more than likely, there will be a way that you can find, and without folks, you know, kind of Blazing those trails. It’s not going to happen. And, you know, I know, it’s not the same thing. But going back to 1980, there were only male astronauts, and they used to tell women, you know, don’t bother applying, you’re not going to get selected. And now we have a number of female astronauts. And in fact, you have commanders like Eileen Collins, who was an incredible person to have in our astronaut corps, Peggy Whitson and, you know, Sally Ride and just a number of these very influential people that were told, you know, don’t apply it. Why even try and you know, they forged the path. And because of them, now, other people are able to do that same thing with African Americans like Guy blueford and make Jameson. You know, they were astronauts, and in the earlier days, you know, they weren’t selected. So I think that without butting your head against the current limitations, don’t never, you know, what we can do will never be expanded. So fight the good fight. as cliche as that sounds.


Stacey Simms  44:57

That’s a great answer. I love it. So thank you so much for joining me today. I’d love to check in with you periodically and see how you’re doing. And it’s just, it’s such a cool story, and I really appreciate you spending some time with me.


Ernie Prado  45:10

Oh, absolutely. I appreciate you. Thank you for speaking to me. It’s kind of cool to talk about some things I’ve forgotten and every day. Yeah, absolute pleasure. And I appreciate you know, the invitation.


Unknown Speaker  45:27

You’re listening to Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.


Stacey Simms  45:33

I will link up more information about where he is today. You can always find out more at Diabetes I will of course include information about the super Guppy which is the project he is currently working on. He’s the project engineer there. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw him you know, it’s it’s funny these days trying to remember when you saw anybody because of course, all of 2020 we saw nobody but I saw him at a friend’s for life conference, I want to say two years ago, and I’m bringing it up because it’s a little embarrassing. The last time I saw Ernie, he was chasing me down because I forgot my phone. I left it with him. And my phone also has my wallet in it. I have one of those cases where it’s got my license, you know, my credit cards, all that stuff. And I hadn’t even noticed it was gone. And then all of a sudden here he is running up.


Stacey Simms  46:18

Oh my gosh, so embarrassing. But thank you. He’s just a Boy Scout, in addition to being a rocket scientist, and I do appreciate you. He’s also been really great to Benny. He met Benny This is a different time. But another friends for life conference. It had to be four years ago helped me out people when it was at the Marriott maybe it was five years ago now. I’d have to look that up. But it was it was the year of the Irish dancers. Oh, my goodness. But anyway, we sat down with Ernie and we were just talking and introducing and Benny absolutely adores him and was eating this enormous dessert. I know Ernie remembers this because his eyes are so wide. It’s like you’re letting them eat this. But then Benny was going swimming. It was night he was doing this nighttime swim with some friends of his and they’re having a really good time. And you know, you kind of need to carp up before you jump in the pool. And I was so excited to show him the next day to show Ernie that he was like 100 all night long after eating this enormous dessert. It’s funny after during the show for so long, how I’ve become friendly with so many of you as you listen and as your guests and man that’s so rewarding to me.

All right. Remember, Tuesday is our regular scheduled episode all this year. Tuesday will be the regular interview episodes with all the segments and info that we do. And on Thursdays I will have these classic episodes where we take a look back didn’t expect to reminisce there at the end. But you know, as we look back on the last couple of years, that is bound to happen. So let me know what you think. I always like to hear from you. big thank you to John Bukenas from audio editing solutions. My editor who is great about taking on new projects like this, I appreciate you john.


Stacey Simms  47:43

Thank you so much for listening. I’m Stacey Simms. Until next time, be kind to yourself.


Benny  47:53

Diabetes Connections is a production of Stacey Simms Media. All rights reserved. All wrongs avenged

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