Marta R. Metelko
Stennis Space Center, Miss.
July 14, 2004
NASA Woman Engineer Leads Propulsion Testing Team
Elizabeth Messer, an engineer at NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Mississippi, is assistant to the chief of test operations, and project manager for the center's innovative Design & Data Management System (DDMS). The purpose of the system is to improve access to engineering data for one of the nation's leading propulsion test facilities.
Messer's interest in aerospace began while she was studying agricultural engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville. While in agricultural engineering she worked one summer assisting in the test of various nozzle designs for crop applications. She soon after switched her major to aerospace engineering and went to work for Raspet Flight Research Center at MSU.
"I caught the testing bug there," she recalls. "I was part of a team that developed a prototype composite aircraft, from concept to fabrication and then testing. It gave me a great appreciation for research and development and the dedication required to be successful at it."
Elizabeth graduated from MSU with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering in 1988. She then moved to Huntsville, Ala., taking a position at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. She joined the center's Turbomachinery Analysis and Design Group, reviewing engine flight data and learning how to design turbopumps. Her primary job was to prepare and inspect turbopumps for testing a one-of-a-kind, specially instrumented Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) for the Technology Test Bed (TTB) project. She then moved on to be responsible for engine test operations for the whole SSME in support of the project.
In 1994, she was appointed to lead testing at Marshall's oxygen cold-flow facility, which is used today to study a variety of system and advanced propulsion technologies. There was just one wrinkle: when Messer got the assignment, the facility didn't exist. So she and her team built it from the ground up. "I learned so much from the many experienced technicians and engineers assigned to that project," said Messer.
In 1996, when NASA transferred management for rocket propulsion testing from Marshall to Stennis, Messer went with it. She joined the test operations division. Her first challenge was to get one of the center's test stands up to speed, no easy task since the B2 test stand had been mothballed for 12 years. But by June 1998, the stand was operational again, test-firing the prototype Fastrac engine.
Messer then went to work with a team to complete the construction and activation of SSC's first high-pressure test facility, the E1 test stand. In 1999, Messer helped prepare the E1 stand for testing of a 250,000-pound-thrust hybrid rocket motor for NASA's Hybrid Demonstration Program. Not only was the test article the first of its kind, but Messer gained a distinction of her own: she had become the first NASA woman engine test conductor at Stennis. Her team successfully tested the 250K Thrust Hybrid Rocket Motor.
Today, Messer continues to improve SSC's test processes, ensuring the center's ability to conduct safe, successful on-site testing and to collaborate with other NASA centers and partner facilities. In August 2003, NASA recognized Messer's role by awarding her the Exceptional Achievement Medal for improving test area processes. She also holds a 2002 Special Service Award for the development of the Design & Data Management System.
But Messer isn't one to rest on her laurels or to limit her contributions to engine testing. She is a member of an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Computer Aided Enterprise Systems technical committee that strives to share and improve methods of communicating technical data for the aerospace community.
In addition she volunteers at her church and the Stennis Child Development Center. Messer also mentors high school and college students, and is a member of the SSC Speaker's Bureau, visiting area schools to talk to young people about careers in math, science and engineering.
Messer's advice to young people: "With hard work and perseverance, any goal you can imagine is achievable."
Media organizations interested in interviewing Messer should contact Paul Foerman, Stennis Space Center Public Affairs, at 228/688-3341.
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