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Our Background


Our Family

Jackson’s immediate family are his parents, Hyla and Ben Wagner, his sister Margot, and his younger brother Warren. He has an uncle on his mother’s side, Ed Pottharst, married to Elizabeth Pottharst with children Aviva Simon, Amy Pottharst, and Danny Pottharst. Jackson has an aunt on his father’s side, Quinn McClean married to Joey McClean with children Anna McClean, Kira McClean, and Sadi McClean. His grandmother on his father’s side is Sukey Wagner.

Tandena’s immediate family include her parents, Denise and Tom Nelson. She has no siblings. She has an uncle and a cousin on her mother’s side, Bruce Williams and Jessica Williams. Her grandparents on her mother’s side are Michael and Janice Williams; her grandmother on her father’s side is Dorothy Brignoli.

Our Story

Tandena and Jackson grew up in Sacramento, California and first met in high school. They dated during college and have been together since. From the start they bonded over many shared interests; the two of them would talk for hours about science fiction, current events, philosophy, videogames, and wacky scientific facts about the natural world. They were inseparable, and got into trouble early on for chatting during class time. They also shared enthusiasm for travel and adventure. After graduating high school, the two and spent ten days backpacking in Desolation Wilderness National Forest along the Pacific Crest Trail. They cooked food on a campstove, purified water using a pump, and hoisted their belongings into the trees in a bear canister before going to sleep in a tent next to a private lake. (Tandena would later go on to do this kind of thing for a living!)

Jackson studied physics at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, an endeavor that began with an infatuation for the lectures of Richard Feynman and by graduation saw him obsessively following the latest news in SpaceX’s campaign to make the Falcon 9 rocket re-usable. Tandena’s long held love of creatures and wilderness brought her to Colorado as well, where she majored in Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She developed a fully fledged understanding of the environment, particularly how interconnected and unbelievably crazy the natural world can be.


Since their schools were close together, many of their best times together in those years came on weekend visits, shared vacation breaks, and road trips between their home state of California and their new homes in Colorado. They crisscrossed the Rockies, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, and once all the way up to Portland Oregon and Craters of the Moon, Idaho. One of the best stops was in Glen Canyon, where they trekked down a towering canyon and camped on the sand underneath a clear starry sky. On several Spring Break weeks they visited Steamboat Springs, where Jackson taught Tandena to ski. They love sharing the panoramic views from the mountain, the sparkling snow, the cold air and watching each other speed down the mountainside kicking up snow.

After college, the two of them ended up in Boulder (the same hip town that many of their college pals also gravitated to). Tandena and Jackson moved into an apartment that they shared with their great friend from Colorado College, Will Heberlein. They greatly enjoyed their time in Boulder, hanging out with college friends and often walking downtown to have sushi, gelato, or a caramel apple. Jackson attended a masters program in Aerospace Engineering, where he learned about satellite mission design, worked on a shoebox-sized “cubesat” that will some day launch into deep space, and finally picked up some computer-coding skills. Meanwhile, Tandena worked with an organization called Ottertail Environmental, where she traveled the farms and parks just outside of Boulder recording scientific data about the local ponds, streams, and lakes. The next spring, Tandena got a seasonal position in Twin Falls Idaho, where she camped with her crew mates every week in utterly remote grassland and sagebrush. She loved everything about her work measuring the environment there.


Soon after Jackson graduated, he began a new job at the tiny cubesat company (to be precise: both the company and the satellites are tiny!) SpaceQuest. Jackson to work on designing, building, and deploying microsatellites. Weighing only around 5 kilograms, SpaceQuest’s cubesats are nevertheless able to pick up on signals identifying the precise positions of thousands of seagoing merchant vessels in the middle of the world’s oceans. (This otherwise impossible-to-gather location data is valuable information for the shipping companies that own the ships!) Among other things, Jackson is responsible for the “attitude control” of the miniature spacecraft: making sure the cubesat is oriented correctly and commanding a set of internal flywheels to spin in a way that points the satellite towards the sun (for solar power) or targets on the ground (for radio communication). Tandena first visited Jackson in DC during labor day weekend. In the fall, she moved out to join Jackson in Fairfax; she began working for the National Park Service this spring. In Virginia, the environment is entirely different. Instead of a fierce sun over a dry plain, she is in a forest full of lush plants and a thick humid atmosphere.


Today, when not busy at work, or planning their impending wedding, or attempting to scout out the entire east coast within driving range (so far we’ve visited Richmond, Baltimore, Delaware, Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Shenandoah National Park and the Wallops Island orbital launch site on Chesapeake Peninsula!), the pair can be found pursuing a number of oddball hobbies. The two of them have always been interested in philosophy (Tandena minored in it at CSU!) and big-picture thinking about the future; over the past several years, Jackson has developed a keen interest in what some might call “compulsively reading nerdy blogs which are ostensibly about science or self-help but just as often are stuffed with cryptic, rambling parables”, but which he prefers to think of as “living the life of the mind as part of a unique online community”. Tandena is an avid animal lover and last month acquired a pair of adorable pet rats, Jet and Ginger, whose crazy antics and intensely curious personalities provide no end of amusement.


Tandena is also a skilled cook and has been slowly teaching her arts to Jackson; many happy afternoons have been spent learning new dinner recipes, like homemade sushi or Punjabi egg curry. They both still love playing and talking about well-designed videogames of all types, from conventional, action-adventure games with movie-like stories, to avant-garde experimental designs such as a virtual-reality game where the player moves their hands and body to manipulate the flow of time. The couple also go bananas for museums of all kinds -- DC is obviously paradise in this regard, and have spent the past year eagerly checking off the numerous world-class attractions of the National Mall. Overall, it would seem, they are a pretty typical pair of optimistic young folks: happy to be in love with each other, and excited to make the most of the opportunities opening up to them in their new adult lives.

And in August 2018, they are getting married!