When Hammond native Jonathan M. Kerr decided he wanted to make a name for himself by climbing his way up the ladder of the restaurant business, he never thought his name would make it into space.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kerr, a chef at SpaceX in McGregor, Texas, marveled at a milestone in space travel, with the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket.
It was the first time a privately financed rocket ever attempted to boost a payload out of Earth’s orbit, and its payload was Mr. Kerr’s favorite car, a cherry red Tesla Roadster with a spacesuit-wearing mannequin, known as “Spaceman,” at the helm and a reportedly nearly indestructible disk carrying a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book series, Foundation.
But there was something else on board, something Mr. Kerr was eternally grateful for, because it would put his name in space for all eternity.
Aboard the roadster, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk placed a plaque engraved with Mr. Kerr’s birth name, Jonathan Charpentier, along with the 5,999 other SpaceX employees.
Mr. Kerr changed his name from Charpentier last year, when he was formerly adopted by his longtime stepfather, John W. Kerr.
“I don’t think anybody really knew he was going to do this until the day of the launch,” Mr. Kerr said. “So everybody kind of was super surprised and super excited because we never thought about something like that, but then he decided to do that and it was amazing.”
Although he started working in kitchens at the age of 15, Mr. Kerr attended Oklahoma State University where he studied zoology. It wasn’t until he returned from studying overseas that he decided to return to his first love, the kitchen.
Mr. Kerr worked in kitchens through college, and continued to do so without any formal training.
After running several restaurants, he said he took a job as a chef at Baylor University and helped in the opening of the school’s McLane Stadium in 2014, where he had another exhilarating experience, cooking for and meeting both former President George W. Bush and former Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Lee Griffin III on the same day.
The SpaceX job, where he has worked for almost three years, came not long after and on a whim, he said.
Having been one of 23 graduates from Hammond Central School in 2007, Mr. Kerr said he never anticipated his life to take the path it has taken. He said he wanted the next generation of Hammond graduates to remember one thing.
“Always go for your dream. Never let anybody or anything keep you back from that,” he said. “If you want something you definitely should go for it. Never stop learning and find a job that makes you happy and it will never be work, and for me that has always been the restaurant business. I love it.”
Mr. Kerr’s mother, Pamela J. Kerr, 60, who still resides in Hammond, said the community shares in the pride she has for her son’s accomplishments and now having his name as a part in Tuesday’s historical event.
“How neat is that, a young man from Hammond has gone so far in his personal career that his name will be in space for eternity,” Mrs. Kerr said. “It is fantastic for these (Hammond) kids to know, there is a whole world out there and you can do all kinds of things and bring your experiences back home. I think it is wonderful.
“And not only is there a whole world out there,” she said, “but you can have your name engraved on a plaque and have it blasted out of this world.”
Mr. Kerr said he only had a brief meeting with Mr. Musk at his office in California. He said the sentiment relayed to employees by including them, even in name, as a part of Tuesday’s monumental event, is just a reminder to him of why he loves working for SpaceX.
“He has given us a great opportunity and we all work hard for him because he takes care of us and holds us just as high as he does his rockets,” Mr. Kerr said. “It is a driving force for me to want to work harder for Elon and the world, which he is trying to make a better place for all of us.”
While he loves what he does and where he works, being a part of a team that is memorialized in space was something he never expected.
“I was a little flabbergasted that he did something like that, but it was amazing, Mr. Kerr said. “It made me beyond ecstatic. I get to say that my name is in space for all of eternity as one of the biggest milestones in history when it comes to space travel.”
According to the website whereisroadster.com, at 7:14 p.m. Friday, the cherry red roadster, “Spaceman” and that list of names is 599,264 miles from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 7,977 miles an hour.
The car is 146,824,890 miles from Mars, moving toward the planet at a speed of 44,565 miles an hour.
The closest approach to Mars in the next orbit will occur on June 10, and will be about 0.739 astronomical units away.
The farthest point from Earth will occur on Feb. 23, 2019, and will be 2.445 astronomical units away.
The closest approach to Earth will occur on Aug. 15, 2019, and will be 1.99 astronomical units away.