Roy S. Estess was named the Stennis Space Center's (SSC) fourth director, having held a variety of managerial positions at the center that prepared him to lead the facility during the dynamic years of the 1990s. Estess, a native Mississippian and a graduate of Mississippi State University, came to the center as a test engineer in 1966 and worked his way up through the ranks.
During his early years in key positions at the facility and while serving on temporary duty at NASA Headquarters, Estess came to be known as a "straightshooter." Many describe him as a no-nonsense manager who has the ability of cutting through the chaff to get to the heart of a problem or situation.
His first assignment at SSC, known then as the Mississippi Test Facility, was as a test engineer working on the Saturn V S-II second stage test program. When the facility's manager, Jackson Balch, began diversifying the installation in the early 1970s, he assigned Estess to serve as one of his marketers. Balch tasked Estess with searching for new and compatible federal and state agencies to share in the vast facilities and diverse programs starting up at the center.
Estess was then named head of the Applications Engineering Office that related to the new agencies and the public sector. He later served as deputy of the Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL). His organizational and management skills were further developed during his tenure as director of the Regional Applications Program (RAP). The RAP was an innovative approach to assist the 17 Sun Belt states in the application of remote sensing technology to resource planning and management. Estess was selected as the center's deputy director in 1980 when the facility was known as the National Space Technologies Laboratories (NSTL).
As deputy director, from 1980-1989, Estess was asked to handle several significant tasks that led to the further development of the center. He served an unprecedented three years as chair of the NASA Equal Opportunity Council, served as interim director of the ERL and completed the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Graduate Business School.