row2k kicks off our 2022 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Navy senior Evan Robertson. We chat with Robertson on coming from a Navy family, working for NASA, and more.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Evan Robertson - Following in the footsteps of my oldest brother—who walked onto the Navy Heavyweight Crew team—I began rowing as a freshman in high school for the Annapolis Junior Rowing Association. There, I found an incredible community of hardworking teammates and a unique physical challenge, and I was hooked.
row2k - How did you decide to attend the Naval Academy?
Evan Robertson - I come from a Navy family; my father and both of my older brothers attended the Naval Academy before me. So, growing up, I knew that I wanted to go anywhere BUT Navy in order to break the mold. It wasn’t until I really considered my passions that my mind began to change. I had always been interested in aeronautics, astronautics, and the future of space travel. I also knew that I had a deep desire to serve and fight for my country. So, after some thought and a quick google search of “which college has produced the most astronauts?” I applied and was accepted to the Naval Academy.
I was never the fastest rower in high school, but I loved the sport, and I knew that the structure of the Navy rowing program and the hard work required for success would keep me sharp and focused on my goals. I can honestly say that I would not have had any of the success I have found in my time at the Academy without the support of the Navy Crew team.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Evan Robertson - I’ve found rowing to be an incredibly humbling sport. No matter who you are, a 2000-meter erg test leaves you feeling like you’ve been hit by a train. The camaraderie in the moment just after the last meter ticks away and the boat crosses the finish line is what has always drawn me to the sport. It’s in those moments—looking around after a piece and seeing your teammates have also given everything they have—that I know I am part of a brotherhood.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Evan Robertson - In March of 2020, COVID-19 first hit the country and canned the Spring 2020 racing season. We were on our annual spring-break training trip in Gainesville, Georgia when the news broke, and the team was devastated; it felt like months of hard work in the winter training season had been for nothing. After we had talked as a team about the path forward and how shutdowns might be handled, we launched onto Lake Lanier one last time. We all lined up at the start of the 1996 Olympic course, six boats across. I was stroking the third-varsity boat at the time, and the image of my entire team together in boats on my left and right, ready to row what we knew would be our last race for months is an image I will never forget. This race was a testament to the hard work and dedication of our program through the toughest times, and I was proud to know that I would soon be serving alongside this brotherhood in the armed forces.
row2k - You’ve done some work with NASA, what did you do and how did that come about?
Evan Robertson - Right now, I’m working with a small team on a project called RSAT (Repair Satellite). I signed up for the project as a sophomore, knowing nothing about the engineering process, and am now working as the lead controls engineer. Essentially, RSAT is a set of robotic arms that are designed to make autonomous repairs on satellites in orbit. Our current model is a proof-of-concept that will be traveling up to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket later this year. Assuming everything goes well, this will be the first American-made set of robotic arms to be tested on orbit. The process of designing, building, and testing RSAT has been many years in the making, requiring weekly meetings with NASA engineers and trips down to Johnson Space Center to test connection with the ISS. It’s been incredibly exciting working at such a high level in the space industry, and I’m anxiously waiting to test the finished product in orbit. A successful test of RSAT could represent a leap forward in on-orbit satellite repair technology, drastically decreasing the cost of satellite upkeep and making space generally more accessible.
row2k - You were recently awarded the Marshall Scholarship. Can you tell us a little about that?
Evan Robertson - The Marshall Scholarship is awarded by the British Government to about 40 American students annually and offers fully funded graduate education at any university in the UK. There have only been 32 Marshall Scholars from the Naval Academy before me, and I’m beyond honored to be joining their ranks. I’ll be using the scholarship to study towards a master’s degree in Advanced Aeronautical Engineering. I’ve already had the chance to meet some of this year’s other Marshall Scholars, and I’m blown away at their passion and ability in everything from artificial intelligence to Medieval history.
The application process for the scholarship took me through rounds of essays and interviews against some of the brightest students in the country, and I’m still in a bit of shock that I was even considered. I’ll never forget the joy of receiving the call from the British Embassy with the good news while I was out with some teammates, who were more excited for me than I was for myself.
row2k - What are you studying at Navy and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Evan Robertson - I’ll graduate in May with a degree in Astronautical Engineering and Applied Physics. After graduating, I'll go straight to the UK to use my Marshall Scholarship and work towards my master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. After that, I’ll be going down to flight school to start my service as a Naval Aviator. In the future, I’d love to work closely with NASA and companies like SpaceX to develop and test the technology that will enable a new generation of space travel.