President, owner, TECMA
Sonia Susac has been interested in space ever since she was a little girl. She would go out to her backyard at night and look up at the sky, gazing at the stars, planets and moon.
“I grew up this little space geek,” says Susac, president and owner of TECMA in Sacramento. “People used to make fun of me for liking ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ Because the reality is that my dad made a part that is sitting on the moon right now, the lunar lander.”
Susac’s father, Fred Schwarz, manufactured parts for the lunar lander, NASA’s spacecraft that landed on the moon’s surface as part of the U.S. Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. Schwarz founded TECMA, which stands for technical manufacturing, in 1957 in Sacramento. It now provides more than 250 precision, mission-critical, small-to-medium parts for NASA, the Department of Defense, Blue Origin and other aerospace agencies. TECMA has been involved in 84 space programs and produced parts for nearly every rocket engine and moon landing from Saturn and Apollo to the Space Shuttle.
Susac began helping out at TECMA when she was 8 years old, pulling weeds and doing some fill-in accounting work during college. Although she enjoyed working with her father, he discouraged her from getting into the gritty world of machinery and parts manufacturing. She earned a master’s degree in communications from Sacramento State instead.
She worked on and off at TECMA then took 10 years off to raise her family. During that time, she faced a life challenge: In 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. The cancer was caught early. Susac has since raised more than $250,000 for Susan G. Komen for breast cancer research. She is involved in the Sacramento-based Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation and continues to counsel women diagnosed with breast cancer. “I will stop whatever I’m doing to take a call from someone who needs someone to talk to,” she says.
With Susac’s son and daughter older and in school all day, she asked her father in 2010 if she could return to work. He said she could fill in for his assistant who was going on a month-long vacation. Two weeks in, tragedy struck. Her father was killed in a car accident. “I went from being responsible for the bookkeeping to being responsible for everything and every employee’s livelihood,” she says. “I didn’t want my dad’s loyal employees to lose their jobs because of a car accident.”
“Behind every great rocket scientist and space innovator is a humble machinist who physically makes the idea into a physical object, into reality. Without precision machine shops, reaching the moon or Mars would just be a dream.”Sonia Susac, president, owner, TECMA
Susac used her organizational skills as a collegiate synchronized swimming coach to keep TECMA running. She called clients to tell them TECMA was still in business. Aerojet Rocketdyne, a longtime TECMA customer, sent workers over to help. Now, she can’t believe how far she’s come. Susac, a married mother of two, is proud to be the female owner of an aerospace business. A NASA representative visited TECMA to personally thank them for expediting a critical part for its space launch system. In 2021, Susac met virtually with members of Congress to tell them about her company’s legacy during an aerospace conference to build support for deep space exploration.
“Behind every great rocket scientist and space innovator is a humble machinist who physically makes the idea into a physical object, into reality,” she says. “Without precision machine shops, reaching the moon or Mars would just be a dream.”
Susac is very excited about NASA’s Artemis program, a U.S.-led international spaceflight program, which begins launching later in 2022 and plans to send the first woman and person of color to the moon. TECMA will provide more than 150 component parts for the mission.
“I’m sitting at my dad’s desk and I sit there and go, I know why he loved this so much,” she says.
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