Faith Comes Easily to Explorer of Heavens

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK Dave Gallagher of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was the keynote speaker for this year’s YMCA of the Foothills’ prayer breakfast.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Dave Gallagher of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was the keynote speaker for this year’s YMCA of the Foothills’ prayer breakfast.

He may be engaged in the hunt for cold, hard facts about the universe in his expansive work for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but Dave Gallagher is also a seeker of spirituality.
Gallagher, associate director for strategic integration overseeing strategy, technology and formulation at the NASA facility, shared his search for a greater good at the YMCA of the Foothills’ annual prayer breakfast, where food, faith and positive outreach are served up simultaneously.
During his keynote speaker address Thursday in the gymnasium of the YMCA’s Crescenta-Cañada branch in La Cañada Flintridge, Gallagher said he is frequently asked why there isn’t a clash between what he does in science and his faith in God.
“To me, there really is no conflict,” said Gallagher, whose talk was titled “Finding Life.” “The majesty and mystery of the universe to me are complimentary and build my faith.”
His faith plays an integral role in other areas of his life. About two weeks ago, Gallagher and his wife were blessed with a grandson who stayed at their house the night before the prayer breakfast.
“Looking at his little feet and his little hands, it points to God for me,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher and his wife also share a passion for issues including youth and homelessness, and support nonprofits such as Elizabeth House, a homeless shelter for pregnant women in crisis. When he sees the YMCA or local ministries positively impact lives, he noted, it is the result of direct outreach by people who are often spiritually inspired.
“To me, it points to God,” Gallagher said.
Before sharing thoughts on his own spirituality, Gallagher presented a slide/picture show that focused on multiple projects, including NASA’s InSight spacecraft landing on Mars to study the planet in late November. Gallagher, who joined JPL in 1989, showcased images from the $700-million Spitzer Space Telescope, whose construction and launch he led. He also was in charge of the team that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope, among other projects.
“I’ve had a front seat for about 30 years,” Gallagher said of his JPL journey. “A lot of it is right place, right time.”
Gallagher emphasized his views are personal and do not necessarily represent those of JPL. He and his family live nearby, and their three children attended La Cañada Flintridge schools.
Lucinda Guarino, the overseeing chaplain and director of well-being at the YMCA of the Foothills, said afterward she enjoyed hearing Gallagher mix together his work, his faith and the entire program in his speech.
“It was very successful,” Guarino said.
Scott Young, the prayer breakfast program chair and a member of the board of the directors for the YMCA of the Foothills, said 350 to 400 people attended the prayer breakfast.
Citizens Business Bank was the presenting sponsor and 45 other tables were sponsored, with proceeds going to the YMCA’s chaplain services program, Young said. Last year’s event raised $35,000 and Young said this year’s event should bring in about the same amount.
The program, according to the YMCA of the Foothills’ website, gives help and acceptance to people with a “nondenominational spiritual support” including collaborative work with other organizations, service projects and community outreach. The service is open to people of all backgrounds.
Emcee for the event was Chris Erskine, author and Los Angeles Times humor columnist and editor, who drew applause with such quips as “I think everybody is a dignitary here” and, after a spirited performance from the Crescenta Valley High School Charismatics music group, “That was worth getting up at 5 a.m., wasn’t it?”
Vocalist Kesha Shantrell was the featured soloist who performed with her band BrowderSister — a duo with Sean Beck — and some additional friends.
Additionally, former LCF mayor Laura Olhasso, a chair of the YMCA’s $7 million capital campaign, made a request for donations.
Mike Leininger, a past president and current member of the Noon Kiwanis Club of La Cañada Flintridge, described Gallagher’s talk as knowledgeable and humorous, saying it resonated with the audience.
“I thought it was perfectly done,” Leininger said. “He definitely gave people things to reflect upon,” Leininger said.

Leave a Reply