Press Release

NASA Engineer Helps Return the Shuttle Safely to Flight

By SpaceRef Editor
April 21, 2005
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As a mining engineer in Colombia, Alberto Duarte never dreamed he’d someday work for NASA. Today, as a member of the Safety and Engineering Risk Review Panel at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., Duarte is part of a team of NASA engineers responsible for safely returning the Shuttle to space.

“One of our most important tasks is to ensure the hardware and software is ready to support the crew in safe flight and for mission success,” Duarte said. “The safety of the mission is our top priority.”

Duarte and other NASA representatives are responsible for the review and approval of Space Shuttle main propulsion system safety reports and systems performance analysis, as well as engineering changes as a result of NASA’s Return to Flight Program. These reports and analyses provide comprehensive identification, controls and acceptance rationale of the functions and performance of the Shuttle main propulsion system and component parts, basically the nuts and bolts of the system.

A native of Bogota, Colombia, Duarte graduated from the National University of Colombia in Bogota in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. After working for several years in Colombia, Duarte set his sights on the United States.

In 1981, he took a position in the Systems Safety Office at Martin Marietta Aerospace in New Orleans, where he was introduced to the Space Shuttle and the world of space exploration. He was a lead engineer at the Mission Assembly Facility, working on the design, fabrication and testing of the External Tank for the Space Shuttle.

In 1986, Duarte’s newfound love of space, and of his adopted country, led him to become a U.S. citizen. A year later, he moved to Huntsville to work as a lead engineer for the Systems Safety, Reliability and Quality Engineering Office of Boeing Aerospace. As part of the Shuttle support contract, his job entailed systems component analysis for the Solid Rocket Booster and Space Shuttle Main Engine projects.

In 1988, Duarte joined NASA as a lead systems safety engineer for the Space Shuttle Main Engine in MSFC’s Safety and Mission Assurance Office. Throughout his NASA career, Duarte has held numerous managerial and leadership positions, including manager of the Systems Safety, Reliability and Quality Engineering Office for the advanced solid rocket motor in Iuka, Miss.

He served as advanced development program manager for the Space Transportation Main Engine Program Office from 1992 to 1994, and as propulsion chief engineer for the X-33 flight demonstrator project from 1994 to 1999. He returned to the Space Transportation Directorate at MSFC in January 2000, serving as a special assistant to the director. In 2003, he was named manager of the Integration Office in the Space Transportation Directorate, providing management and operational support across the organization.

Duarte earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1994 from Tulane University in News Orleans. In 2003, he received a master’s degree in systems engineering and engineering management from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

He enjoys volunteering through his church for several local and overseas mission tasks. He also volunteers as a translator for Huntsville Hospital and for Huntsville Municipal Court. He also teaches free Spanish lessons to anyone who wants to learn the language. He enjoys writing about his personal experiences in America, sending some of his articles to El Tiempo, the leading newspaper in Bogota, reaching 285,000 readers. “What I see and experience with my family here in the United States, I enjoy sharing with others,” Duarte said.

Duarte is focused on making sure NASA achieves its goals. “What we do today sets the foundation for the future of space exploration,” he said. “We’re paving the way for those generations of explorers to come and inspiring them to move forward with the Vision for Space Exploration.”

Media interested in interviewing Duarte should contact the MSFC Public Affairs Office at: 256/544-0034.

For the latest information on NASA’s Return to Flight efforts on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.