The early 1960s was an exciting time in the aerospace industry, due to the "space race." In 1961 Rahkonen had the opportunity to interview for a job as a solid propellant rocket chemist at Thiokol in Utah. Without a college degree, he was asked why he thought he could work as a rocket chemist. He started pulling various pieces of propellant from his pockets and described their technical properties, proving that he understood rocket chemistry with the best of them. He was hired and was the only chemist in the research and development lab without a college degree! During his nearly 30 years at Thiokol, he was on teams that developed the propellant for the Minuteman missile, the same basic propellant used in Space Shuttle booster motors. He was also involved in developing the propellant used for automobile air bags, which burns extremely fast, has no flame, and gives out only non-poisonous gases. It is used in millions of automobiles today. As with all Thiokol employees, his saddest day at work was the day the space shuttle exploded on January 28, 1986.
"A Finnish American Rocket Man." [Tribute to John Rahkonen] Finnish American Reporter 24, 2 (February 2010): 3.