Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
April 7, 2004
NASA Engineer Sits In Driver's Seat Of "Discovery"
Stephanie Stilson works with NASA engineers, technicians and contractors as KSC's representative for Shuttle processing operations.
Ever since the third grade, Stephanie Stilson knew she would one-day work for NASA. Little did Stilson imagine she would be responsible for a Space Shuttle.
"My father took me to visit the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida when I was nine," Stilson said. "I told him then that when I grew up, I was going to work for NASA. My father loves to tell that story," she added.
Stilson is the Space Shuttle Discovery vehicle manager at KSC, NASA's primary space launch facility. She oversees all activities associated with planning, scheduling and preparing the Discovery orbiter for space. Before every launch, she is the one to answer the all-important question, "Is it ready to fly?"
Discovery is scheduled to be the orbiter that returns NASA's Space Shuttle fleet to safe flight following the Shuttle Columbia accident. Discovery will carry the STS-114 crew to the International Space Station. The launch planning window for the mission opens in March 2005. It may seem a daunting responsibility, but Stilson takes pride in knowing the major role she plays in space exploration.
Stilson works with NASA engineers, technicians and contractors as KSC's representative for Shuttle processing operations. She is NASA's chief point of contact on periodic maintenance, upgrades, modifications and full systems testing to ensure Discovery is safe for flight.
"There is so much pride associated with NASA, and I am thrilled to be a part of such a well-respected government organization," Stilson said. "We are all contributing to our country's history and to our continued exploration of space," she said.
Stilson began her career with NASA in 1989 as a cooperative education student, while double majoring in computer and electrical engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.
In 1995, she began working as an electrical and data systems engineer on Spacelab, the laboratory that carried out science missions inside the Space Shuttle's payload bay. She made sure all the equipment, research facilities and experiments going up could communicate with the ground systems. Her expertise led to her assignment as director for multi-element integration testing on the International Space Station. Stilson was the first woman at NASA to ensure International Space Station modules and components were compatible on the ground and in space.
In 2001, Stilson was offered the opportunity to become the vehicle manager for Discovery. Since then, she has seen "her" Shuttle fly twice.
"The best part about that is when we get to talk to crew members' families," Stilson said. "As soon as Discovery has launched, we let them know how excited we are to be a part of their family now. That's really neat for me," she added.
She has been rewarded by her NASA colleagues with numerous Group Achievement Awards and a Certificate of Commendation for work on Space Station integration testing.
She is working on a master's degree in engineering management at the University of Florida in Gainesville. When she's not busy with her own schoolwork, she can likely be found at her local elementary school, where she often shares her experiences working with the Shuttle.
"It is very rewarding to feel like you're helping others understand what we do at NASA," Stilson said. "I just hope I can spark students' interest in learning more about space exploration," she said.
Media interested in interviewing Stilson should contact Tracy Young, KSC Public Affairs at: 321/867-2468.
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