Dreams of Flight Redefined
Terry Hill once dreamed of being a pilot, but his ambitions have taken him beyond the friendly skies. Hill is now fulfilling that dream working on the future of spaceflight for NASA. He’s helping to develop the next generation of spacesuits to send humans to the International Space Station, moon, Mars and beyond as part of NASA's Constellation Program.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be designing spacesuits for NASA as my job,” said Hill, the engineering project manager for the Constellation Spacesuit System at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
Prior to joining the U.S. space program, the Texarkana, Texas native pursued his dreams of navigating the aerospace landscape. Hill got his start with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin.
At UT Austin, Hill discovered an interest in orbital mechanics and was hooked on working with projects pertaining to space. He decided to take on graduate school at UT Austin and received his master’s in aerospace guidance, navigation and control theory.
“It’s just been a series of unexpected but good events that lead me down this path, and I have found myself in a totally different place than I thought possible,” Hill said.
Hill said his graduate school experience was completely different from his undergraduate studies. His graduate studies focused more on understanding advanced concepts rather than basic engineering. While working on his master’s degree, Hill jumped on a new and exciting opportunity: working for NASA JSC as a primary investigator on his educational advisor’s contract.
“It occasionally placed me in the position of being the most knowledgeable person on a particular topic or field of study--a scary place to be at times,” Hill said.
While working in Houston, Hill was encouraged by his NASA lead to pursue the agency's graduate co-op program. In 1998, he was accepted into the Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics division as a NASA graduate co-op for an extended nine-month tour. Hill was one of the lucky few to be chosen for a full-time position at JSC after completing his co-op tours in 1999.
“It was a rough hiring year, and I was one of five co-ops that got hired,” Hill said.
Over the next 10 years, Hill worked on a variety of projects that provided the foundation necessary for his current position at JSC. One of those projects was the Orbital Space Plane (OSP). Hill gained valuable insight into the challenges of designing new vehicles to be compatible with the International Space Station. After OSP, Hill worked on the STS-114 Return to Flight mission, developing and testing tile repair tools needed for the launch.
Hill also worked on other navigation projects. He worked to verify the navigation software for station assembly missions and additionally on the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) internal navigation algorithms, CRV and station navigation avionics hardware development and on-orbit testing. Hill's skill set continued to expand as he worked with space industry groups to develop the future space programs during the Space Launch Initiative Program and OSP.
Constellation’s mission includes building the next space fleet: the Orion crew capsule, the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Altair lunar lander and the spacesuits that interface with these vehicles and protect the crew in different, hazardous environments to allow them to accomplish mission objectives. Hill leads the engineering team that is designing a single suit system capable of carrying out all aspects of those exploration missions. The system will use interchangeable parts to minimize storage space and launch weight while maintaining the suit performance for the astronauts.
“Without the suit there is no manned mission,” Hill said. “We’re working what we’ve learned from past programs like Apollo and Space Shuttle, and we were challenged by Constellation program management to develop a one suit system to do it all.”
Hill’s early aspirations of flying have brought him to the frontiers of space design. He will continue working on the Constellation spacesuit system in preparation of the launch of the Orion crew capsule to station, and in the coming decade, the Altair lunar lander. Hill’s interest and ingenuity continue to contribute to the success of NASA and the future of spaceflight.