Marta R. Metelko
February 02, 2004
African-American Engineer Gets 'Cool' Fuel To Shuttle
In just over eight minutes, the Space Shuttle goes from standing still to moving more than 17,000 mph. Martin Hayes, a 25-year-old African-American engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, knows the process well. The Shuttle couldn't leave Earth without the ultra-cool hydrogen fuel that his team loads into the Shuttle's huge external tank six hours before every launch.
The Shuttle's three main engines burn a mixture of liquid hydrogen and oxygen at an incredible rate of approximately 1,000 gallons every second. Hayes and the "hydrogen team" at KSC maintain the fuel stored in a 900,000-gallon, thermos-like container that keeps the hydrogen liquid by cooling it to minus 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
On launch day, Hayes and the team ensure the liquid hydrogen flows smoothly through an intricate series of above ground pipes to the Shuttle's external tank. The work is neither for the timid nor those afraid of heights, as many of the valves and pipes that transport the hydrogen reach as high as 215 feet.
"One of the perks of the job is the view from the launch tower," Hayes said. "From there, you can see all the NASA and Air Force launch pads and, beyond them, the vast ocean that carried explorers to America. Seeing this panoramic view of the Kennedy spaceport makes it clear, this is the gateway to the universe for a new generation of explorers," he added.
Hayes began his NASA career in 1998 as a cooperative education student while attending Tuskegee University, the historically black university in Tuskegee, Ala. He earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering in 2000 and came to work for NASA full time. Hayes has seen 15 Shuttle launches, but was most dazzled by the first he witnessed in 1997, while completing a summer internship in West Palm Beach, Fla., at Pratt & Whitney. "Several students who had never seen a launch went to Cape Canaveral together," Hayes recalled. "When the Shuttle lifted off, it wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before. Everyone should see a launch. Watching a spaceship leave the Earth is indescribable," he said.
Hayes credits his parents, teachers and church leaders for his success. They always encouraged him to follow his dreams wherever they took him, even to the stars and beyond. "I wish everyone could have a teacher like Dr. David Foye, who taught physics at Murrah High School in Jackson County, Miss.," Hayes said. "He did experiments and demonstrations that brought physics to life for the students," he said.
Hayes was on his way to visit another campus, when he stopped by Tuskegee University. Dr. Eric Shepard, a Tuskegee aerospace engineering professor, told Hayes about the university's aerospace program. Shepard gave him such an impressive tour, Hayes decided to enroll. At a career fair in 1998, Hayes talked with a KSC representative and learned about the NASA co-op education program that launched his career.
As a co-op student at KSC for two years, Hayes found the position a great way to find out about NASA's career possibilities. "You learn so much about the way NASA works, information you can't get in any classroom," he remarked.
As a full-time NASA employee, Hayes believes it is important to share information with other agency engineers and with students interested in following in his footsteps. To network with other African-American NASA engineers and exchange information, Hayes is part of the Black Employee Strategy Team at KSC. The group also sponsors recruiting trips to historically black colleges and provides tutoring for elementary students.
"Never sacrifice your integrity. There's always pressure to go in a certain direction, but don't follow the crowd, be an innovator. Stick to what you know is true, and it will pay off in the long run. Being true to yourself is its own reward," Hayes advised.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Hayes should contact Tracy Young, KSC Public Affairs at: 321/867-9284.
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