Hussman graduate student launches space career

Chris Link will use his strategic communications master’s degree in the aerospace industry.

Chris Link in front of University observatory.
Space has captivated Chris Link from a young age. He's excited to work in the industry after receiving a Master of Arts from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When NASA astronaut Zena Cardman ’10, ’14 (MS) delivers the keynote address at this weekend’s Carolina Spring Commencement, one space-loving master’s degree recipient will be particularly excited.

“I’m preparing to be blown away,” said Chris Link, whose Master of Arts degree in media and communication, specializing in strategic communication, comes from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Space has captivated Link since his childhood. He dreamed of being involved in humanity’s exploration of the final frontier.

“The great thing about space is that it brings every nation together,” Link said. “Humanity collaborates to adventure further than we have any right to. We put aside all our differences for the sake of innate human curiosity. I knew that if I could find an opportunity to contribute to that, I wanted to jump right on it.”

But the odds of becoming an astronaut are, well, astronomical. He needed to figure out how his interest in writing and his undergraduate degree in communications could bring him closer to space.

Then he spent a summer internship at Aerojet Rocketdyne, an aerospace manufacturer that supplies engines and rocketry components for NASA missions. While there, Link met some of the crew of NASA’s upcoming Artemis II mission.

He applied lessons from his courses to his work on a communications plan for the OSIRIS-REx mission, which collected a sample from the asteroid Bennu and returned to Earth in September 2023. According to NASA, the mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

“It just made me feel great to come into work every day and think, ‘Wow, I’m working on something that matters,’” he said.

That experience reaffirmed Link’s dream of working in the space industry and provided him with a path to achieving it. The internship inspired his master’s thesis.

Now that he’s completed his master’s degree, Link is very excited that the speaker who will boost the Class of 2024 into their next stage is a double Tar Heel who’s an astronaut.

“To say I’m thrilled would be an understatement,” Link said. “There are so few people who have been astronauts and have her perspective and wealth of experience. Anything she tells us is going to be worth hearing.”

Following graduation, Link will begin his space industry career in a communications role with the aerospace company RTX. He will work at three sites over two years as part of the company’s global communications leadership development program. In the long term, he hopes to continue contributing to the field that captured his heart and continue playing his role in extending humanity’s reach further into space.

“I’d love to see us go as far as we can,” he said. “We’ve sent probes to planets and places all over the galaxy, but space is such a wide area that’s so little explored. We learn new things every day. I want us to keep pushing the boundary and pursuing knowledge driven purely by our sheer intrepid human spirit.”