Illustration by Ellen Weinstein
Amy Hoffman doesn't realize she's tapping her boots underneath the table at Boondoggles, where she's having a last lunch with Clear Lake friends before skipping town. The boots are baby-blue Cavenders, ankle high and definitely out of season because it's the first week of July and her friends are sweating in T-shirts, cargo shorts and sandals. Hoffman is deep in conversation about her imminent move from her native Texas, the scramble to stake an apartment in a market riddled with scams and listings that don't even include refrigerators.
Hoffman (not her real name) grew up in Austin and spent the past three years working in Houston, where Boondoggles, with its spacious seating and encyclopedic beer selection, became a regular hangout for her engineering clique. She always ran into coworkers there after hours -- astronauts, too, on occasion. Hoffman recounts over pizza chips how those sightings invariably cause her to geek out intensely, yet internally. She's always tempted to corner an astronaut and say hi, but she gets how creepy that would be. A friend who has dropped by to see her off tells her she's going to be missed.
As a NASA engineering co-op student at Johnson Space Center, Hoffman trained in various divisions of the federal space agency to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college this year after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting Johnson Space Center in recent months. She did have every intention of joining that force -- had actually accepted the offer, in fact -- when she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with rising commercial launch company SpaceX.More »