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I Am Building SLS: Maury Vander

Maury Vander, chief of the Operations Division at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, is ready to make the ground shake in preparation for the first crewed flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. #NASASLS

Maury Vander, chief of the Operations Division at NASA's Stennis Space Center

It’s exciting to think that the first time the Space Launch System is fired up will be here at Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The SLS core stage will be the biggest thing tested here since the 1960s, and we’re all working very hard to get it right. Our teams have nearly finished refurbishing Stennis’s historic B-2 test stand. Fifty years ago, it accommodated test vehicles standing 20 stories tall and delivering 10.5-million pounds of thrust — yet that’s still not quite the full scope of what’s to come with SLS! It’s exhilarating to watch our people refine and expand their know-how — taking NASA testing to a level we’ve never achieved before.

As chief of Stennis’s Operations Division, I supervise the team responsible for building our on-stand test support systems and preparing the facility for the upcoming round of testing. With the B-2 test stand refurbished, we’ll install and activate our support systems — cryogenics, hydraulics, gas delivery, data acquisition and controls and more — and conduct trial runs prior to the SLS vehicle’s arrival, ensuring all systems operate properly, minimizing time lost between installation and testing.

I’m a Slidell, Louisiana, native. I graduated in 1989 from the University of New Orleans with a degree in mechanical engineering. I went to work for Rocketdyne at Stennis in 1990 as a space shuttle main engine test engineer. My wife Karen and I have been married since 1999; she leads the Safety, Quality and Management Systems Division of Stennis’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. We have two daughters, Sydney and Taylor.

I didn’t know anything about rockets when I started at Stennis, but as luck would have it, I fell into the best job I could ever imagine. When I walked in that first day, I was surrounded by knowledge, talent and experience, and those older, more experienced engineers freely shared everything they knew. What struck me from the start was the rush of watching a rocket engine test — one I’d had a hand in bringing about. Not too many people can say of their jobs, “Today I made the ground shake.” At Stennis, we get to do it all the time.