NASA People

Center Snapshot: Pat Quander-Haas
Pat Quander-Haas Image above: Sky diving, riding a motorcycle and flying in a glider was all part of the grieving process for Pat Quander-Haas. Photo Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

She jumped out of airplane. Rode a motorcycle. A glider.

Check. Check. Check.

"I want to get a pilot¹s license sometime," said Pat Quander-Haas. "It¹s something else I want to check off."

Each was done in rapid succession when she learned a hard lesson.

"Tomorrow isn¹t promised to you," Quander-Haas, an instrument and data technician working at the Gantry, said softly.

Donald taught her. They had been married for 13 years when he died at 44, eight years ago, after playing tennis.

"After he died, I wasn't afraid of things anymore," she said. "I think when you have a really good person who loves you unconditionally, you feel there's nothing you can't do.

"But when that's gone, when the rug's pulled out from underneath you and you're left standing, what do you have to depend on then? You have to look within. I was blessed that I had so many friends to help me. God helped me find my way, really. Helped me keep going. That removed the fear."

Quander-Haas, who has since remarried, took stock of her own situation and decided to do some of the things that she and Donald had talked about doing together.

She did a tandem sky dive.

"I even had them film me skydiving, and I took it to (her job then, at the National Transonic Facility) and played it and said 'this is me grieving.' They sat and watched it and some people congratulated me. My boss said, 'That was nice. Now don't do it again.' "

She didn¹t. Once was enough. Check.

She rode a motorcycle for a year. Went on a glider ride, depending on someone else to land an aircraft with no engine and three instruments.

"For me, all of this was grieving," she said. "It¹s something I had to do to get to 'the other side.' "

She changed her job, going from NTF to the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel and then the Gantry.

"I had been afraid (before Jones died)," Quander-Haas said. "Afraid of failing.

"When you¹re afraid of failing, you stay in your safe zone. It¹s what you know, and you don¹t want to venture out. NTF was what I knew. Then I went to TDT, and they did dynamic testing there, which was totally different from NTF testing. Then I left TDT and came here, and we¹re crashing models out here."

At each place, she had to learn a new job, or to apply old skills in a new way.

A former Air Force aircraft electrician -- ­ she did 10 active years, then 10 as a reserve--­ she was a mechanic at NASA Langley when she arrived in 1989. She was called away to serve when the U.S. went to war against Iraq in 1990, then came back to Langley to find that her skills as a mechanic weren¹t needed.

"So I learned to do instrumentation," she said. "I was an aircraft electrician in the Air Force, and they figured I knew what wiring looked like and that was close. So I went to instrumentation and learned what I learned from the people I worked with."

She was in the right place to do that.

"It seems like the whole thing has been on-the-job training," said Quander-Haas. "I think you learn more that way. You¹re dependent on other people, and there are a lot of people around here who have all of this experience that you can tap. I've been really fortunate because I've had people around who have been willing to show me what I need to do to get the job done."

Her job at the Gantry is working with sensors and instrumentation, then gathering data during tests.

"You're the trigger person," she explained. "You listen to the test director do the countdown, and at T minus-5 seconds, you hit the switch and take the data for the facility and pull the data off the data acquisition systems."

Away from Langley, her interests are eclectic. She is trying "square-foot gardening," in which plants and crops are raised in a box marked off into squares. She raises bees for pollinating.

Quander-Haas counsels people who have been through what she has, telling them some things she learned along the way.

"I think that because my first marriage ended in death, those things you used to fuss about in your first marriage, those things don't mean a thing," she said. "When I hear people complaining about their spouses, I try to tell them that's not important. What's important is the way you treat each other every day."

And she listens.

"When people who are grieving over the loss of a spouse, other people put me in contact with them and I'll go and talk to them or give them advice or just listen," she said. "They want somebody to hear their story when they¹re grieving. I'm more compassionate now than I ever was before."

And she learns from husband Bryan, an engineer at NASA Langley who is into World War II ships and airplanes.

"It¹s fun learning new stuff," she said. "They tell you that when you go to these positive affirmation classes that you should wake up and say, 'what new thing will I learn today?'

"At the end of the day, ask yourself, 'what new thing did I learn today?' "

It's why she's always looking for new things to check off in her new life.