Press Release

NASA Woman Engineer Leads Propulsion Testing Team

By SpaceRef Editor
July 14, 2004
Filed under ,

Elizabeth Messer, an engineer at NASA’s Stennis Space
Center (SSC) in Mississippi, is assistant to the chief of
test operations, and project manager for the center’s
innovative Design & Data Management System (DDMS). The
purpose of the system is to improve access to engineering
data for one of the nation’s leading propulsion test

Messer’s interest in aerospace began while she was studying
agricultural engineering at Mississippi State University
(MSU) in Starkville. While in agricultural engineering she
worked one summer assisting in the test of various nozzle
designs for crop applications. She soon after switched her
major to aerospace engineering and went to work for Raspet
Flight Research Center at MSU.

“I caught the testing bug there,” she recalls. “I was part of
a team that developed a prototype composite aircraft, from
concept to fabrication and then testing. It gave me a great
appreciation for research and development and the dedication
required to be successful at it.”

Elizabeth graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in
aerospace engineering in 1988. She then moved to Huntsville,
Ala., taking a position at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight
Center. She joined the center’s Turbomachinery Analysis and
Design Group, reviewing engine flight data and learning how
to design turbopumps. Her primary job was to prepare and
inspect turbopumps for testing a one-of-a-kind, specially
instrumented Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) for the
Technology Test Bed (TTB) project. She then moved on to be
responsible for engine test operations for the whole SSME in
support of the project.

In 1994, she was appointed to lead testing at Marshall’s
oxygen cold-flow facility, which is used today to study a
variety of system and advanced propulsion technologies. There
was just one wrinkle: when Messer got the assignment, the
facility didn’t exist. So she and her team built it from the
ground up. “I learned so much from the many experienced
technicians and engineers assigned to that project,” said

In 1996, when NASA transferred management for rocket
propulsion testing from Marshall to Stennis, Messer went with
it. She joined the test operations division. Her first
challenge was to get one of the center’s test stands up to
speed, no easy task since the B2 test stand had been
mothballed for 12 years. But by June 1998, the stand was
operational again, test-firing the prototype Fastrac engine.

Messer then went to work with a team to complete the
construction and activation of SSC’s first high-pressure test
facility, the E1 test stand. In 1999, Messer helped prepare
the E1 stand for testing of a 250,000-pound-thrust hybrid
rocket motor for NASA’s Hybrid Demonstration Program. Not
only was the test article the first of its kind, but Messer
gained a distinction of her own: she had become the first
NASA woman engine test conductor at Stennis. Her team
successfully tested the 250K Thrust Hybrid Rocket Motor.

Today, Messer continues to improve SSC’s test processes,
ensuring the center’s ability to conduct safe, successful on-
site testing and to collaborate with other NASA centers and
partner facilities. In August 2003, NASA recognized Messer’s
role by awarding her the Exceptional Achievement Medal for
improving test area processes. She also holds a 2002 Special
Service Award for the development of the Design & Data
Management System.

But Messer isn’t one to rest on her laurels or to limit her
contributions to engine testing. She is a member of an
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Computer
Aided Enterprise Systems technical committee that strives to
share and improve methods of communicating technical data for
the aerospace community.

In addition she volunteers at her church and the Stennis
Child Development Center. Messer also mentors high school and
college students, and is a member of the SSC Speaker’s
Bureau, visiting area schools to talk to young people about
careers in math, science and engineering.

Messer’s advice to young people: “With hard work and
perseverance, any goal you can imagine is achievable.”

Media organizations interested in interviewing Messer should
contact Paul Foerman, Stennis Space Center Public Affairs, at

SpaceRef staff editor.