February 25, 2004
Building Bridges To Space: African-American Rocketeer Tests NASA's Top Technologies
Image left: Mark Moody, lead engineer in the Propulsion Test Integration Office at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Photo credit: NASA.
In his youth, Mark Moody was fascinated by suspension bridges: their strength and balance, the complex network of cables and trusses arranged so that each strengthens the next; so that, together, they support the whole structure.
Moody's job today may seem a far cry from his original career dream, but in many ways, he's still building bridges. As lead engineer in the Propulsion Test Integration Office at NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC) near Bay St. Louis, Miss., Moody provides guidance and technical expertise on NASA rocket-propulsion test assets, activities and resources in support of testing rocket engines -- the technologies necessary to bridge the challenges of space flight and carry future launch vehicles to space.
He also plays a key role in organizing the propulsion testing activities at other NASA centers and at partner facilities across the nation. It's a complex network of test sites, each strengthening the work of the next and, together, supporting every aspect of NASA's flight programs.
"Our test facilities are our bridge to flight," Moody said. "Testing is NASA's primary means of validating technology, proving an element is going to work when it needs to work."
Moody's office orchestrates the SSC test schedule, juggling the many facets including rocket engines, component technologies and even future spacecraft. His office also determines the testing to be conducted at NASA's other primary propulsion test sites, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio; White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M.; or at NASA's partner facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"We're in constant motion," Moody remarked. "We make assignments based on capabilities among the NASA centers, or recommendations to use Department of Defense facilities if that will better serve our combined needs," Moody said. "We outline processes, share best practices and ensure the right mix of hardware and skills at each location. It's a challenge, handling the whole spectrum of work, but there's an outstanding level of dedication and teamwork among our test facility personnel," he added.
Moody grew up in New Orleans, one of seven siblings. That early interest in architecture and engineering, plus a knack during his teen years for tuning up his '64 Volkswagen Beetle and other family cars, led Moody to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, which he received in 1985 from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
After college, Moody designed tools for Denver-based Martin Marietta Corp., now Lockheed Martin, working on the Space Shuttle's External Tank at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Simultaneously, he pursued a master's degree in management from Florida Institute of Technology of Melbourne, completing that degree in 1988.
In 1988, working for the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International of Canoga Park, Calif., he came to Stennis as a combustion devices engineer. In 1994, he joined NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, where he was responsible for the implementation of safety, reliability and quality assurance policies on rocket-propulsion test programs assigned to SSC.
Moody credits the "nurturing positive guidance" of his extended family, his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and close family friends, with giving him the skills to succeed in life. They taught him to work hard, be responsible and never stop learning. He strives to pass along those skills to his own children and others as a Cub Scoutmaster and parent volunteer with USA Track and Field, the Indianapolis-based governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States.
But Moody still contends it is schoolwork, and those ambitions first realized in the classroom, that are critical to success in life.
"Be serious about school," he cautions young people. "This is where you find the building blocks, the fundamentals, the first ideas of what you may want to be and do. Work hard in school and you'll discover nothing but great opportunities in the future," he said.
"You might even end up building bridges to space," he added.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Moody should contact Rebecca Strecker, SSC Public Affairs, at: 228/688-3346.
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