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Faces Behind NASA’s Gateway

NASA is working across the country to build the Gateway, an outpost near the Moon that will support human missions on the lunar surface and help develop a sustainable presence. Behind the scenes are the people who form a diverse group working hard to develop a hub where the agency can test the technologies and skills we need to venture to Mars

Meet Melissa McGuire, the mission design manager for the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element, who works at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo of Melissa McGuire

When people ask Melissa McGuire what she was doing when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, she tells them she was at Lake Erie cutting her first tooth.

“I was 8 months old and my mother gave me water in a glass when she heard an unmistakable ‘clink’ sound,” McGuire said. “My mother likes to tell everyone that I cut through my first tooth the day Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon.”

While her mother believed her passion for space exploration began even before she could speak, McGuire’s own appreciation for space exploration emerged at age 8 when she watched Star Wars in the movie theater. That spark led her to pursue a career supporting human and robotic space exploration.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Cincinnati, she landed an internship at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and never left.

At Glenn, where much of NASA’s work on the Gateway’s power and propulsion element (PPE) is being accomplished, McGuire’s primary focus has been on trajectory design and analysis for different mission scenarios. The PPE, which Maxar Technologies is building, is the main propulsion and power system for the Gateway and is responsible for maintaining Gateway’s orbit and moving between orbits as needed.

“I am extremely excited to be a part of the next great adventure of human exploration in space,” McGuire said. “The Gateway offers us a way to sustain our presence on and around the Moon as well as a place to test the technologies we will need to build the spacecraft that will take humans to and from Mars.”

McGuire’s career at NASA is peppered with achievements across three decades, leading and supporting space exploration mission concepts. But her proudest moment was seeing tears of joy in her grandfather’s eyes when she told him she was hired by NASA.

While she enjoys being an aerospace engineer, McGuire loves to spend her time outside of work painting landscapes and dabbling in oil painting. To keep herself motivated, she made a new year’s resolution to paint and draw every day. A devoted mother of two teenagers, McGuire exemplifies how passion and hard work can lead to success.  

Meet Debra Ludban, deputy manager for the Gateway’s Vehicle System Integration Office at NASA’s  Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Portrait of Debra Ludban

Debra Ludban’s pragmatic approach to life is the driving force behind her success. Armed with her strengths in math and science, combined with the knowledge that an engineering degree would open many opportunities, Ludban opted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.

A career in space wasn’t initially on her list, partially because she wasn’t exposed to it during her childhood in Wisconsin, where aerospace wasn’t a big industry. But her father’s contributions and love for NASA drove her to take interest in a space industry career.

Ludban’s father supported the Apollo Program as an intern, and helped track telemetry from Wallops Island in Virginia and Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the 1960s. By the time he graduated and finished his time in the U.S. Army, NASA was no longer hiring, but Ludban was more than happy to fulfill his dreams by working for an agency that continues to inspire the world one mission at a time.  They’re both space nerds who love sharing stories of the “old” and “new” NASA.

Ludban started her career with NASA in 2000 at the White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, New Mexico, as a quality engineer in the Space Shuttle Program, supporting refurbishment of the shuttle’s main engines after each mission.

Today, she is the deputy manager for the Gateway Program’s vehicle integration office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which ensures the Gateway’s systems, requirements, testing and verification plans all are in sync.

“Gateway offers a sustainable opportunity,” Ludban said. “It will be there all the time and operate even when it is uncrewed.”

Ludban is proud to be a part of the Gateway program that will help establish a sustainable presence in deep space. She strongly believes this will open up many opportunities for exploration and science that will provide humanity’s next giant leap.

“It’s exciting to be looking for sustained human presence beyond the low-Earth orbit economy,” Ludban said. “I can’t wait for the astronauts on the Gateway to ‘call home,’ where kids can see the next steps toward human exploration and be inspired the way we were with Apollo.”

Ludban lives with her husband, son and daughter and is a constant source of inspiration for them all. Her son is fascinated with Mars rovers and wishes he could drive one of the prototypes at Johnson.