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  • Writer's pictureRhea Space Activity

RSA's Brilliant Minds: Chris Dinelli

Updated: Jun 28

Sun shining, fishing pole in hand, Rhea Space Activity’s mechanical engineer Chris Dinelli spends his waking hours outside of the office in the tranquil streams of enchanted New Mexico. 


When he’s not fly-fishing, he leads the mechanical engineering work on RSA’s autonomous navigation product, the Jervis Autonomy Module.


Dinelli leverages his deep understanding of mechanics, precision, and problem-solving for both fly fishing and mechanical engineering. He casts a large influence across the lab and streams alike.


Dinelli fly fishing in New Mexico.


Dinelli would eventually learn that leaning into the skills that make him love fly fishing would help him excel in his current career, but not without a couple of re-casts first. 


Blind Casting


Running a fleet detailing service, fly fishing, managing a restaurant and bar, Dinelli blindly cast for years in New Mexico. 


“I’ve always fished but when I was 10, I expressed some interest in fly fishing and my aunt bought me my first fly rod and it came with a DVD that shows you what to do. It was very fun. I started practicing in my backyard using corks instead of hooks because we had a koi pond. I’ve just been doing it ever since.”


Dinelli fishing.


Growing up in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque, Dinelli excelled in school.


“I always really liked school, but I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got out of high school,” he said. “I was always in honors classes and even won the Presidential Award in elementary school.”


In middle school, he began rebuilding mini motorcycles with his dad, discovering a passion for rebuilding motors. 


“In high school I got myself a muscle car,” he said. “It was an old fox body Mustang. It broke down a few times and I was forced to learn how to fix it. I took an automotive class at my high school and my teacher was awesome. He invested in his students, spent weekends with his students, and was an advocate for his students pursuing the things he really liked.”


Upon graduating high school, Dinelli sought job stability and initially exercised his math skills to pursue accounting. 


“I tried accounting for two semesters and thought, ‘this is the worst thing ever.’ So, I dropped out of college and started working instead,” he said. 


Following the inclination towards numbers, he transitioned to managing businesses in Albuquerque. 


“I managed two small businesses and liked that, but I recognized that I always wanted more mental stimulation.” 


So, after a few years in the workforce, Dinelli would cast a new line. 


Lure


Some encouragement from his closest confidants, twin brothers from his youth, ultimately changed the course of Dinelli’s career and convinced him to return to school. 


“They went to New Mexico Tech for mechanical engineering right out of high school,” he said. “We would always talk about their jobs, mechanical engineering and go down these fun rabbit holes on topics like combustion engines. I would intuitively understand what they were talking about."


His family knew he was teeming with potential and encouraged him to continue his education.


“My stepfather is an engineer at Sandia Labs and he, along with the rest of my family, encouraged me to try engineering and see if I liked it,” he said. “They never let me settle for being anything less than I could be.”


From left to right: Chris Dinelli, mechanical engineer, RSA; Dan Schatzman, CEO of Jaguar Precision Machine and SpaceFund; and Cameo Lance, COO, RSA pose with the RSA logo.


He took the bait and was lured back to school.


Dinelli then went to Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) before transferring to New Mexico Tech.


Re-Casting 


“The first few years of me going back to school were really tough because it was a part of my brain that I hadn’t used in a long time,” he said. “I realized that I hadn’t done math in a long time, and I really wanted to give up. But I had this this professor at CNM, who was teaching one of the math classes and I told him I don’t think that I can do this. He told me something that has stuck with me since then. He told me that successful people have grit and if I want to succeed in anything that was worthwhile, then I needed to learn how to have grit in the face of things being tough.”


From then on, Dinelli channeled his grit and persevered.


“Once I got the hang of learning again and developed strategies for studying and understanding things that are hard, I realized I can learn anything I want.” 


After completing his core classes with a high GPA, Dinelli received a full, merit-based scholarship to New Mexico Tech.


During his sophomore year at New Mexico Tech, he worked as a research and development engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, conducting mechanical design and expanding his skills.


After graduation, Dinelli explored his options and landed in his current role with RSA.


From left to right: Salma Benitez, aerospace engineer, RSA; Jake Singh, guidance navigation and control engineer, RSA; Kevin Hause, Chief of Strategy, RSA; and Chris Dinelli, mechanical engineer, RSA, visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array in the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico.


Hooked


Dinelli is RSA’s first employee in the Santa Fe office. 


“The first thing I worked on was setting up the office,” he said. “Then I immediately jumped in and conducted Monte Carlo simulations for plasma reentry environments.”


As a native of New Mexico, he is grateful to be part of the growing space industry and to see his community grow. 


“My favorite thing about working for RSA is that I get to interface with people in New Mexico’s space industry that I never would have had the opportunity to spend time with anywhere else,” he said. “I’ve had opportunities to meet decision-makers in New Mexico and have conversations about topics of national importance.”


He is also optimistic about the future of other small tech companies in New Mexico. 


“Watching how much our local representatives want to see tech businesses succeed here is really encouraging,” he said. “New Mexico has always been a place where technology is built. Our local, state, and national representatives are lowering the barrier to entry for tech businesses and forming relationships with them to help them grow.” 


Dinelli graduates from New Mexico Tech with a master's in mechanical engineering .


Dinelli credits RSA’s leaders with helping him grow professionally and personally, instilling confidence in him from the start. He continues to display grit and recently graduated from New Mexico Tech with a master’s in mechanical engineering. 

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