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STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight: For NASA's Jody Terek, 'Technical Conscience' Equals Shuttle Safety
STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight
For NASA's Jody Terek, 'Technical Conscience' Equals Shuttle Safety
June Malone/Martin Jensen
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
News Release: 05-052
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
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
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
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