Press Release

STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight: For NASA’s Judy Terek, Technical Conscience Equals Shuttle Safety

By SpaceRef Editor
April 19, 2005
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The door to NASA engineer Jody Terek’s office is never closed.

Terek is an engineering liaison at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. She is the Center manager for the Independent Technical Authority, an organization of technical experts under NASA’s Office of the Chief Engineer in Washington. Their mission: to partner with project teams across NASA to ensure safe, reliable operations for every flight program.

Right now, as NASA prepares the Discovery orbiter for STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight in May, Terek and the Independent Technical Authority are in high gear. It’s her goal to nurture “technical conscience” — an unwavering dedication to safety — across Marshall and NASA.

“Technical conscience is the personal responsibility we feel to ensure that safety is never compromised,” Terek says. “NASA is working toward a universal commitment to that ideal — to question any inconsistency or unresolved issue, no matter how slight.”

NASA is well on its way toward meeting that goal, she says. The Agency has undergone a dramatic culture shift in recent years, implementing the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board — which recommended, among other things, creation of the Independent Technical Authority. NASA also is unifying its spaceflight and science missions under the umbrella of the Vision for Space Exploration — the ambitious initiative to return humans to the Moon and explore the Solar System in coming decades.

For the Shuttle Propulsion Office at Marshall, the challenge is to get America’s flagship flying again. The Independent Technical Authority provides final technical authorization for flight readiness. For Terek and the Authority’s “warrant holders” — experts in NASA systems and technical fields across the Agency — the goal is to partner with team members to clear each piece of hardware, each electrical component, each nut, bolt and flange, for safe and reliable Shuttle integration and flight.

During the past two years, Terek has monitored key safety upgrades for Shuttle Propulsion elements, including the massive External Tank that delivers the primary fuel load for launch and the Space Shuttle Main Engines and Solid Rocket Boosters that thrust the Shuttle to orbit. It’s her job to keep in step with colleagues “on the floor,” as she puts it, as well as those in management positions, to foster open discussion among all parties and to translate potential miscommunication into clarity — and solutions.

That fills Terek with a sense of pride. “I’m really excited about where we’re headed,” she says. “We’re putting engineering front and center in our flight programs, where it belongs.”

Terek’s enthusiasm for her chosen profession would have been unexpected from the young girl growing up in Titusville, Fla., Kennedy Space Center’s back yard. Space “events” sometimes drew her out — she remembers standing outside her family’s home in 1981, watching Shuttle Columbia, on its STS-1 mission, rocket into the sky for the very first time — but she didn’t catch the space bug as a kid. She had her heart set on a career in surgical medicine. She enjoyed studying anatomy, preferring the physiological to the philosophical.

But her mathematical leanings eventually pushed her more toward chemistry than biology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1987 from Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. In 1989, she joined NASA at the Marshall Center, working on payloads and projects flying aboard the Space Shuttle and other spaceflight missions. She was appointed in 1997 to manage project engineering teams tasked with development and delivery of lightweight fuel tanks and International Space Station payloads, or experiments. Terek also has led chemical testing to study the impact of the space environment on everything from metals used in spacecraft development to fabrics worn by flight crews.

It’s not medicine, but in a way, Terek says, her career at NASA has been a unique form of surgery. The work typically calls for careful dissection of each flight project or piece of hardware — not just to determine the best, safest way to deliver it to space and bring it home again, but also to better NASA’s understanding of how to approach future flights and develop future vehicles and missions.

“Which galaxy should we go to first?” Terek says. “Don’t ask me — I’m a tactician, not a strategist. But as soon as the technology’s available to make that happen, I want to build the ship that will get us there.

“And we’ll build it right,” she adds.

For more information about STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight, visit:

For more information about NASA’s mission and the Vision for Space Exploration, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.