Marilyn Coggins - From Skating to Space, She's Sewn It All
From competitive ice skating to outer space, Engineering Technician Marilyn Coggins can design and fabricate your attire.
Engineering (Thermal Blanket) Technician
Organization She Works For:
Code 540, Thermal Systems Support Office, Mechanical Systems Division, Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate
Years at Goddard:
Years at Current Position:
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
I am the project lead for the thermal blankets for the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Project. We design, fabricate, and install thermal blankets for the spacecraft, which protect our delicate instruments from freezing or burning in the hostile environment of space. Since no two spacecraft are exactly alike, you really need to be creative to come up with design solutions.
Is there something surprising about your background that people do not generally know?
I can see something, chop into a piece of fabric, and make something. As a child, I designed clothes for my dolls and then later for myself without patterns. When I was nine, I made a tutu out of an old sheet. Then everyone in dance class copied mine by adding a ruffle to their gym shorts. My mother could not afford new, fancy dresses for high school dances for three teenage
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Photo of Marilyn Coggins. Credit: NASA
daughters, so she bought each of us the fabrics of our choice and we made our own. You learned to do a really good job because you did not want to go to a high school dance looking like you were wearing a homemade dress!
Before coming to Goddard, I had my own home-based business designing and fabricating ice skating attire for men, women, and synchronized skating teams. A highly decorated costume including rhinestones and pearls applied individually and by hand could take 30 hours or more to make. In 2003, when the World Figure Skating Championship was in Washington, D.C., I was asked to be on the wardrobe team that was on call for emergency repairs. I saw all the world class skaters including Michelle Kwan, a favorite of mine. Sarah Hughes’ coach even brought me her designer skating dress to steam.
Why did you choose your profession?
I love working with engineers, designing, and sewing, so working as a blanket technician is the perfect match for me.
Who is the most interesting, inspiring, or amazing person you have met or worked with at Goddard?
During the Hubble servicing missions, crews visited Goddard often. I met Astronaut John Grunsfeld who is a very interesting and personable guy. He asked to have his picture taken with us, which was great fun. One of the things that impresses me the most about the astronauts is that they are not only awesome pilots, but are serious academics as well.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done at Goddard?
In 2004, I worked on the CALIPSO Project, a joint endeavor between NASA and the European Space Agency. The project used another company to make their thermal blankets. At Goddard, we pattern right on the spacecraft while that firm relied on computer graphics. Some areas on the blankets needed to be large and “blousey” to cover large cavities while other areas needed to be snug to allow signals to communicate. Because the original blankets fit too loosely, they blocked the radiators, which caused overheating. Our Goddard thermal engineers asked us to help. The spacecraft was built in Cannes, France, so I made six trips there to help with testing and refurbishing the blankets to fix the problem. It is beautiful on the French Riviera!
If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?
I was a competitive ice dancer until a few years ago. My former partner Bob Boukas and I placed fourth at the 2000 Adult National Competition in Lake Placid, New York. If I were not working here, I would like to teach ice skating especially to young children. Ice dancing is more popular now that the U.S. has two championship dance teams.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I sew, of course! I make clothes, but I also make things for the home including window treatments, chair pads, bed spreads, table linens, and pillows. Anything that can be made out of fabric, I’ve done it!
What is your “six word memoir”?
“I finally found my dream job!” This is what I said when I arrived at Goddard.
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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.