Press Release

Marshall Center Engineer Howard Soohoo Proving ‘You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind

By SpaceRef Editor
June 9, 2009
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — There have been days in the last year when test engineer Howard Soohoo, who has worked for NASA for more than two decades, feels like he’s back in school. And he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

At NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., since 1987, Soohoo has tested rocket engines, hardware and systems for the space shuttle and other projects. In 2008, he traded his test laboratory for a seat in the head office — as executive intern supporting the Marshall Center’s director and his administrative team.

“It was a difficult decision to leave the test lab,” Soohoo said. “I like smoke and fire, and after 20 years of working on cutting-edge NASA test programs, it was hard to give that up. But you have to keep pushing yourself, seeking out new experiences, learning new things.”

The rotating civil service position, which usually spans 12-16 months, is an opportunity to enhance management and leadership skills by shadowing Marshall’s director and other administrators. Soohoo has spent the past year working closely with David King, prior to King’s retirement as center director, and with his successor, current Acting Director Robert Lightfoot, and their teams. He organizes special events and tasks for the director; plans and oversees executive forums and other meetings; and travels with administrators to provide technical support during trade shows, conferences and NASA speaking engagements.

He also reviews technical plans for work across the Marshall Center, assessing program content and serving as a liaison to Marshall managers and staff. He performs fact-finding studies, and reviews engineering literature and scientific and industry studies to help Marshall teams deliver quality products and services on time and within budget.

The breadth and depth of responsibilities Soohoo has tackled in the position have given him a strategic perspective on how NASA and the Marshall Center operate, he said. They’ve also given him invaluable experience he intends to put to good use in the next phase of his career.

He credits that career-oriented focus to his parents and grandparents, Chinese immigrants who moved their family to the southern United States in search of a better life. Soohoo entered first grade in Gallup, N.M., with scant understanding of English, but picked it up very fast with his parents’ help.

“My parents had a strong work ethic, and they wanted my brothers and sisters and me to have more opportunities than they had,” he said. “Mine was the first generation in our family to go to college.”

But at that point, Soohoo already had earned strong, practical work experience as well. As a senior in high school in Gallup, he entered the U.S. Department of the Navy’s cooperative education program. He continued as a Navy co-op through college, conducting sonar technology research for fast-attack submarines — instrumentation testing experience he would later draw on at NASA.

Soohoo earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1987 from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and immediately joined NASA’s Marshall Center as an electrical engineer. Over the years, he conducted a broad range of tests on space shuttle propulsion elements, including the solid rocket motors and the external tank, and on a variety of propulsion and instrumentation technology development efforts.

Prior to his assignment to the Marshall Center director’s office, Soohoo was an engineer in Marshall’s Test Integration Office, supporting development of the first-stage and upper-stage avionics systems for NASA’s Ares I rocket, the next-generation launch vehicle that will carry explorers to Earth orbit and beyond in coming years.

He is excited about NASA’s future, and is pleased that his executive intern position has brought him into contact with so many young people, when he speaks at schools and public events around the country about NASA and his experiences. He hopes to inspire them to pursue career paths as rewarding as his — and encourages them to start early: seeking internships, co-op programs and other opportunities in high school and college that will help set the stage for promising technical careers of their own.

“I tell them, ‘The world is out there to pursue, and you can do anything you set your mind to,'” Soohoo said.

And with that, he’s off to his next executive meeting, seeking out new experiences and learning new things.

SpaceRef staff editor.