Mines News

Release Date Friday, June 10, 2016

Mines Aerospace Engineer Becomes Heavy Metal’s Next Hit

Photo credit: America's Got Talent

RAPID CITY, S.D. (June 10, 2016) – SD Mines graduate and Huron, S.D., native John Hetlinger (Chem55) had an illustrious career as a Navy pilot and at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., serving as program manager for the COSTAR instrument to repair the Hubble Telescope. Now at the age of 82, he’s embarking on a new career: heavy metal’s next hit.

Hetlinger stunned judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandell, Mel B and Heidi Klum on Tuesday night’s episode of “America’s Got Talent,” with his rousing cover of Drowning Pool's heavy metal song “Bodies.” Voted on to the next round, Hetlinger has since been asked to open for Drowning Pool. The band's guitarist C.J. Pierce  told TMZ  he wants Hetlinger to perform with them in July at the Open Air Festival in Chicago. 

The Huron, S.D., native began his career as a navy pilot for Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4) or “Skinny Dragons,” based in Okinawa, Japan. From 1956-1959, Hetlinger flew missions to Matsu and Quemoy islands. After leaving the armed forces, he earned a Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary. 

Later, from 1980 to 2001, Hetlinger worked for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, most notably as the program manager for the Hubble Telescope’s repair. The first images sent back to earth after the telescope entered orbit in 1990 were fuzzy and out-of-focus, a disappointment to NASA and the legions who had celebrated its launch. Three years later, NASA sent off the first Hubble repair mission, which was to install the COSTAR instrument (or Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement), a program Hetlinger successfully oversaw. 

“The pretty pictures all came from this camera,” former Hubble chief scientist Edward Weiler told NPR in 2009. “So in terms of our connection to the public, this is the camera that saved Hubble.”

The instrument was later removed and replaced in 2009 and put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2010.

Ball Aerospace continues to work with NASA, its corporate headquarters located in Broomington, Colorado, where Hetlinger lives. 

Watch the episode clip here.


About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,778 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate is 96 percent, with an average starting salary of $62,929. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on Facebook and Twitter.


Contact: Dani Mason, (605) 394-2554, danielle.mason@sdsmt.edu