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Center Snapshot: Garfield Creary
Center Snapshot: Garfield Creary. Image above: Jamaican-born Garfield Creary recently built a quarter-scale model of the SAGE III instrument as an educational tool. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Sasha Congiu

Garfield Creary grew up in Jamaica and can remember as a kid taking a bus to another town's library just to read engineering and science magazines. Little did he know that he would move to the United States and, someday, work for NASA.

"You couldn't check them out; you had to read them there," explained Creary. "This was long before I imagined that I would leave Jamaica to the States."

Living in the U.S. for 20 years now, Creary is still surprised to see how far he has come. He is the lead mechanical engineer for NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III project and the subsystem lead for the ladder platform mount on the International Space Station.

"I look back now, working on a project like SAGE, and when I talk to family members, even some of my old high school pals that I keep in touch with on Facebook, I talk to them about what it is that I am doing," he said. "Then I have to remind myself that this is almost impossible that I'm here doing this."

He made the impossible possible, but it wasn't an easy journey.

In 1991, Creary moved from Jamaica to New York and, within two months, joined the military. He spent six years in the Navy, which relocated him to Virginia. During that time, he achieved his first goal.

He got college degrees.

First in his family to go to college, Creary graduated at the top of his class at Old Dominion University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical design engineering. Upon graduation, Creary got a job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, working on propulsion and fluid systems.

He still was determined to work for NASA.

"While I was in the shipyard, I was constantly responding to job announcements here [NASA] and I sent in my resume and probably still have 18 rejection letters," he said laughing. Even in the midst of rejection, Creary didn't give up.

He took a different path, applied for a job as contractor and was hired.

"I left a civil service job at the shipyard to become a contractor at NASA in the hope that it would be an avenue to actually get a job here [NASA]," Creary said. After less than a year as a contractor, he was offered a civil service job.

Creary’s long-time dream had come true, but he faced a big challenge. Not much of what he did at the shipyard translated to NASA. He had to learn about airplanes, rockets and space.

"I had a curiosity in all of those things," said Creary. "I have been interested in NASA for a very long time, so I knew all of the rockets that NASA used."

To do the actual engineering work, he had to start with basic principles of aerodynamics and flight. "I had to learn a lot of stuff, and I'm still learning," he said. "I'm onto more advanced stuff now, like project management. I had to learn a lot on the job."

A recent accomplishment of Creary's was building a quarter scale model of SAGE III to help people understand it. Using a rapid prototype machine, he built parts from the existing 3-D model. The fun part was taking the parts home and spray-painting the model.

The interactive model can be held, twisted and turned and is used for presentation and educational purposes.

"When you tell people or try to explain in words or even have a 3-D model … some people can't wrap their brain around the 3-D model," Creary said. He also described how helpful it is to have a physical representation of what he is working on.

Outside of work, Creary enjoys spending time with wife Janice and daughters Diane, 8; and Kathryn, 3. He appreciates NASA’s high priority on personal life.

"I like the work environment, aside from the type of job that I do," said Creary. "It's not just about your work life, but about your life in general. They go to great extents to make sure that your personal life is taken care of, too, just as well as your work life."

Work, time with his wife, his daughter's piano lessons and picking his kids up from school still isn't enough for Creary's engineering mind.

He still finds time to build things, including a model railroad.

He spent a year and a half laying out the design. He built the structure, laid the tracks, set up the electronics and built many of the controlled electronics. And if that wasn't enough, he is now working on the scenery and mountains.

"I'm learning the artistry part of it," said Creary. "That's pretty cool too; it's a much slower process than the engineering part of it."

He takes breaks from the model railroad to spend more time with his children, one who is already starting to follow her father's example. Diane is in third grade, but is taking fourth-grade math and fifth-grade reading. She, too, wants to be an engineer.

Creary’s personal goal is to finish his already-started doctorate. He also wants to manage a project similar to SAGE.

"It took a lot of work to get to where I am," he said, "but I still enjoyed getting here, and I enjoy being here."

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