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The Best of the Best
Wanda Harding smiling in front of a NASA display. When a rocket launches, its success isn't just due to good engineering, but also to some of the world's best engineers. That's why NASA's Wanda Harding was recently selected by the National Technical Association (NTA) as one of six honorees for its 2004 Technical Achiever of the Year Award. This distinguished honor recognizes minority pioneers in the fields of science and technology. Harding received the award in November at the NTA's 76th National Conference at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Kennedy Space Center Deputy Director Dr. Woodrow Whitlow nominated Harding for the award. "The technical excellence that Wanda demonstrates as a mission integration manager in our Launch Services Program and her dedicated service to the local community led me to nominate her," confirmed Dr. Whitlow.

Image to right: NASA's Wanda Harding works as a mission integration manager for the Launch Services Program. Wanda is one of six winners of the NTA's 2004 Technical Achiever of the Year Award. Credit: NASA

Despite the award's prestige, the NASA manager isn't one to let the accolade go to her head. "I was humbled by the selection," said Harding.

It's Harding's job at Kennedy to ensure that spacecraft and rockets are appropriately teamed and outfitted for a perfect flight. Harding held the position for the Gravity Probe B mission launched in April. Following that mission, Harding's current assignment is with the Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) mission. DART is an experiment in computer-guided spacecraft and due to launch from California in spring 2005.

As a child, Harding wasn't immediately interested in aerospace. "Growing up, I wanted to either be a newscaster or concert pianist."

That all changed when she started to think about a career in engineering while enrolled in a math and science high school in Atlanta. After high school, Harding went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Hampton University in Virginia and the Georgia Institute of Technology, respectively. Harding then joined the Kennedy Space Center in 1994 and began working with the International Space Station program.

Despite her achievement, being named an honoree hasn't dampened Harding's hunger to reach higher. "Receiving the award has provided [me] additional encouragement and motivation to take on new challenges," said Harding.

More than that, Harding hopes her example and success can be a source of inspiration to kids. "It's the basic 'if I can do it, so can you' philosophy" she said.

[The NTA was founded in 1925 by an engineer named Charles S. Duke, who was the first African-American to receive an engineering degree from Harvard University. The Association is dedicated to encouraging minority participation in science and technology.]

Charlie Plain
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center