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For release: 04/06/04
Release #: 04-101  

Nashville, Tenn., native Jay Perry offers life support to Space Station

Photo description: Perry

As a NASA aerospace engineer specializing in environmental control for the International Space Station, Jay Perry designs and monitors the Station's life support systems, a project managed at the Marshall Center. Perry is an indoor air quality specialist, working on technologies and evaluating spacecraft air quality data to ensure the crew has a safe, healthy cabin environment in which to live and work.

Photo: Perry (NASA/MSFC)


Call it "destiny," but Jay Perry says he always had a hunch he would work in space exploration someday.

As a child, he lived and breathed the excitement of Moon landings and other NASA missions — watching every minute of space-related television coverage, building plastic models of just about every rocket or spacecraft he could find, poring over all the space-related issues of National Geographic, and plastering his room with posters about space exploration. And now, astronauts depend on Perry to literally live and breathe in space.

As a NASA aerospace engineer specializing in environmental control for the International Space Station — the research facility orbiting 240 miles above Earth — Perry designs and monitors the Station's life support systems, a project managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Perry is an indoor air quality specialist, working on technologies and evaluating spacecraft air quality data to ensure the crew has a safe, healthy cabin environment in which to live and work.

"Working on the Space Station presents challenges and opportunities, both technically and personally, that I could never have imagined," Perry says. "It has been quite a ride and I'm still learning. I'm looking forward to the next steps beyond Earth orbit."

While growing up in Nashville, Tenn., Perry remembers watching the Moon landings on television, deciding when he was 7 that it would be really "neat" to work for NASA and explore space.

He graduated from Hillsboro High School in Nashville — where his parents, Jess and Carla still live. Following in his father's footsteps, Perry went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, graduating cum laude in 1985 with a bachelor's in chemical engineering. But the traditional job market for chemical engineering graduates was slim.

After many interviews with several potential employers, Perry applied for an opening at Marshall. He accepted an offer to join the Marshall Center in June 1985 in the Materials and Processes Laboratory. By the early 1990s, Perry was working with the Russians on life support systems and spacecraft cabin air quality for nine Space Shuttle dockings with the Russian space station Mir.

To ensure U.S. astronauts' health and safety would not be compromised during their time aboard, a team was tasked to design and deliver an air quality-monitoring experiment to Mir. Perry was an engineering leader on that team, spending a month in Russia prior to the successful launch of the experiment. When the experiment returned to Earth, the team analyzed the Mir air samples and determined the air to be safe for astronauts.

"That experiment forged long-lasting ties with Russian experts and successfully demonstrated our astronauts would have no problem in long duration flights on Mir," Perry says. "Those ties are very important to our partnership on the Space Station today, because we learned that, while we may approach a problem differently, our goals are the same."

Perry also believes that understanding the Russians' extensive experience with long duration missions and how they manage their life support system operations has proven extremely valuable. "The opportunity to jointly study the air quality environment on board the Mir, since it was already a mature space outpost, served as an excellent laboratory to check out the engineering predictions and judgments that were serving as the design basis for the U.S.-developed parts of the Space Station," says Perry. "Cultivating the relationship served to set the stage for managing the joint cabin environment that exists on board today."

Since the Shuttle-Mir program, Perry has concentrated on work with life support systems for the International Space Station, where Americans, Russians and astronauts from other Space Station partner nations are continuously working and living in the microgravity, or near-weightless environment of space.

Perry worked on the air purification systems housed in the Space Station's U.S. laboratory "Destiny," where most experiments are conducted. Thirteen years of hard work paid off in February 2001. Perry was part of the engineering team in the Mission Evaluation Room in Mission Control in Houston as the Destiny module was launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the Space Station. Perry conducted the engineering analysis that established the procedures the crew followed when they entered the new module for the first time.

"It was amazing being part of that team and activating Destiny and opening the way to future space exploration and scientific experimentation in space," Perry says. "I enjoy being a part of history."

Perry is the recipient of 16 NASA and related industry awards, including the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for air quality control work for the Spacelab Program. Spacelab was the laboratory where science research was performed in the Space Shuttle's payload bay. This effort served to establish how all new Space Station modules are readied for flight as well as how air quality control engineering is now approached.

Perry has also received two Marshall Center Director's Commendations for engineering and technical leadership in developing a hazardous waste management system for the Space Station in 1987, and for vision and initiative in working with a small business to develop a catalytic converter technology for spacecraft air quality control in 1997. In the latter effort, the company has spun the technology off to various commercial sectors.

Most recently, Marshall 's Flight Projects Directorate presented Perry with its Superstar Award of Excellence in 2002 for sustained performance in the area of spacecraft cabin air quality control engineering and technology development. He is also the author of nearly 40 NASA and conference publications in that same field.

As for his support in life, Perry relies on his wife, Gretchen — a former Marshall engineer turned professional violinist— and their two children, Jayson and Ashlyn. And even though he sees the "real thing" everyday, just as he was growing up, Perry still can't get enough of space. His favorite TV show is "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

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