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I Am NASA Stennis: Justin Smith

Justin Smith
Justin Smith of Poplarville, Mississippi, helps protect national space efforts as a as a contracting officer’s representative and physical security officer at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.
NASA/Danny Nowlin

Justin Smith, contracting officer’s representative and physical security officer for NASA’s Stennis Space Center, helps secure the national effort to make space missions possible. After 20 years on site, Smith oversees Stennis’s Protective Services Security Contract and Electronic Security Maintenance Contract, making the short drive in for work from his family land, where his ancestors have lived for generations.

Smith grew up in Poplarville, Mississippi, on land that has been in his family for longer than the town of Poplarville has had a name. It just so happens that the city was named after his ancestor “Poplar” Jim Smith. The nickname “Poplar” was given due to a poplar tree grove on his homestead that stretched along the railroad in the 1880s. To purchase the homestead, Jim Smith traded 10 bushels of corn to the Native American tribe. His descendants still live on the land today, and the history is part of the story of Pearl River County and Poplarville.

Growing up, Smith knew little about the many activities at nearby Stennis. Smith had an uncle who worked onsite for Rocketdyne, but he did not give much thought to working there himself in his youth. Smith remembers watching shuttle missions on television and the Columbia tragedy, but otherwise attended to other interests. It was not until his father brought him along on a trip to a government vehicle auction that he realized Stennis was substantial. His first thoughts were, “This is a lot of stuff in the middle of nowhere.”

The Stennis multiagency federal city lies within the 13,800-acre gated Fee Area but is surrounded by 125,000 acres of the uninhabited acoustical buffer zone. The “middle of nowhere” Smith encountered turned out to be the nation’s premier propulsion test facility.

Smith did not begin working for NASA at Stennis after school. For Smith, an opportunity to work at Stennis opened with an interview for a position with Datastar Inc. He had been working in an information technology service company out of Ridgeland, Mississippi, on projects that kept him living out of hotels for most of each month, including weekends. Datastar Inc held a subcontractor position to Lockheed Martin, which, in turn, held the Stennis Information Technology Service Contract. The interview led Smith to begin work at Stennis as a Datastar Inc. employee Aug. 13, 2001.

After the September 11 tragedy, Smith began to climb the ranks of leadership from desktop support to domain administration and general system administrative support. At that time, Smith was introduced to another company installing security cameras. Smith soon realized security installation would not stop with cameras. It would move on to using card readers and perhaps more.

“It was clear the way the government had been doing business was changing,” Smith said. “Information technology and physical security began to merge. So, I began to learn as much as I could about this merge and electronic security.” The decision turned out to be perfect preparation for Smith’s next role.

In the latter part of 2011, Smith noticed a job posting that looked similar to his current position. “I was hesitant about applying, as I thought I lacked in my portfolio the skills and achievements to meet the requirements for the position,” Smith said. “As I read, I began to believe that I could do the job if only I could get an interview.”

With that interview and the knowledge he developed, Smith made another significant professional change. Smith transitioned from a position as a Stennis contractor to a civil servant role Dec. 5, 2011, and has worked for NASA ever since that time.

In that regard, Smith has contributed to national goals to return humans, including the first woman and first person of color, to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program. He helped establish and ensure security for the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage Green Run test project, including transport of the core stage to the facility aboard the Pegasus barge. The SLS Green Run testing was the largest test project at Stennis in 40 years.

“I find myself anxious and excited after seeing all the long hard hours that went into the Green Run test,” said Smith. “With seeing Pegasus in and out of Stennis, carrying vital pieces of the test equipment, to seeing the SLS rocket module on the Stennis test stand, to viewing the test, I am looking forward to the positive news as NASA prepares for human flight back to the Moon and beyond.”

Leading the way on the electronic security installation at Stennis, Smith began in a time where only a few buildings had any electronic security. Today, Smith’s teams continue developing and installing security measures across the center, especially in those areas closely related to NASA’s mission. His work directly helps protect the property and data for both NASA and multiple commercial companies investing in Stennis, developing their low-Earth orbit space travel program.

Stennis is a place where, no matter where you are from or who you are, everyone works together to support the missions.

justin smith

justin smith

Physical Security Officer

“I get to work with a lot of great people,” said Smith. “Stennis has a range of personnel working throughout the center. They hold many differences in age, race, lifestyle, belief, and culture. We also continue to have personnel coming to Stennis to perform work from other countries. Stennis is a place where, no matter where you are from or who you are, everyone works together to support the missions.”

Smith has 20 years of service at Stennis. The latest 10 years of that time, Smith has served as a NASA civil servant. With his help, NASA is taking steps to develop a future for humans in space and here on Earth.

For information about Stennis Space Center, visit Stennis Space Center.