Challenges are His Strong Suit
Albert Sierra, chief of the mechanical systems branch in the Launch Services Program, views his 16-year career with NASA at Kennedy Space Center as an opportunity to keep challenging himself.
Recently, Sierra received recognition at Kennedy's annual honor awards ceremony "for exceptional leadership in proactively addressing cross-mission opportunities to enhance the overall management of expendable launch vehicle missions."
Pat Hanan, Launch Services Program vehicle engineering division chief, said Sierra's experience, strong technical foundation and leadership skills will help to ease the organization's transition to the new engineering organization.
"It is awesome to be part of the NASA (Kennedy) team," Sierra said. "The diversity and talent of the people working here makes the challenging job of launching space shuttles and expendable launch vehicles seem easy."
Image left: Albert Sierra, chief of the mechanical systems branch in the Launch Services Program, began working at Kennedy in 1990. Image credit: NASA/KSC
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native moved to Puerto Rico with his family when he was 10 years old. His parents wanted to move from the big city and decided to reunite with other family members in Humacao, a small community on the island country.
Sierra earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico in 1989 and began working at Kennedy in 1990 on the shuttle program, in orbiter mechanisms and payload handling. Sierra said the job was unique because it involved working on several shuttle systems, including landing gears, payload bay doors, wheels, tires, brakes, hatches and the software that ran the systems.
As a payload handling engineer, Sierra configured the shuttle payload bay to accept the various payloads. He has worked in the Payload Changeout Room at the pads, the Orbiter Processing Facility, the Shuttle Landing Facility and other Kennedy buildings that support the space shuttle.
He received a Master of Science degree in management from Florida Tech in 1994.
In 1996, Sierra moved to the Launch Services Program to work in the mechanical and propulsion systems branch. He's remained in the program ever since.
Sierra noted the Cassini and Mars Exploration Rovers missions were two of the most significant projects in which he was involved. He said Cassini was a unique mission that required interfacing with the U.S. Air Force and other NASA centers.
He worked on the solid rocket motor assembly and testing and payload installation on the Titan IV that launched Cassini. "The mission was many years in the making, with literally hundreds of people working on it," Sierra said.
Sierra worked as both the integration engineer and the mission manager for the rover missions. He said the mission schedule was challenging because two different Delta vehicles were used to launch the explorers to Mars. "We didn't expect the rovers to operate this long," Sierra said. "It's pretty amazing, all the information they're still sending back to Earth."
Sierra is working with the Air Force and other NASA centers on the propulsion systems for future vehicles. This includes the RS-68 engine which is currently planned for use in the Ares V cargo launch vehicle -- the "heavy lifter" of America's next-generation space fleet.
"Sharing the knowledge and insights we already have on this engine and how it operates will help us develop a common propulsion system for the future U.S. space vehicles," Sierra said.
"I admire KSC for recognizing the diversity of our work force and paying tribute to the contributions we all have to offer." Sierra said. "I'm proud to see fellow Hispanics be part of the team that makes space exploration a reality. I look forward to the future and what we have ahead of us."
Sierra is married to his wife, Paige, and they have three children, Victor, Harry and Isabel, and one yellow Labrador named Sunny. Sierra enjoys the outdoors, riding his motorcycle and woodworking.
Linda Herridge, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center