Jennifer Lyons: Just Keep Paddling!

Jennifer Lyons is deputy manager, NASA Deep Space Logistics Project.

Responsibilities: Procuring commercial services to deliver equipment and supplies to a new space platform, Gateway.

Experience: Chief, fleet and systems management division, Launch Services Program; Kennedy Space Center (KSC) strategic planning manager; deputy director, KSC human resources; NASA vehicle manager for OV-103 Discovery, Space Shuttle Program; other management roles with NASA.

Education: B.S., Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, Virginia Tech; M.S., Space Technology, Florida Institute of Technology; M.S., Engineering Management, University of Central Florida.

When I was a kid, my parents gave me Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos. That’s when the space bug hit me. I was entranced with the universe, its enormity and potential.

During high school, I watched the first space shuttle launch on TV and noticed there were no women in the firing room. When I mentioned this to my dad he said, "Why don’t you do something about that?"

My dream had always been to work for NASA. As soon as the hiring opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to work in the Space Shuttle program. Every mission was unique, spectacular, and challenging.

My biggest professional leaps have happened when I’ve taken challenging assignments that forced me out of my comfort zone. One example was my move from center staff back to a technical role in Launch Services, where I led the integration of the launch vehicle fleets and missions, among other responsibilities. I asked myself, "What am I thinking?"

the thrill is not gone

It turned out to be great. I loved being back in an operational program, and I also gained a greater perspective on the commercial launch business model. I was there 16 years, and each day felt as thrilling as the first.

It happened again when I went from the Launch Services program to Deep Space Logistics. We are working with industry and commercial providers to create a viable and vibrant supply chain in space. The idea is to establish an orbiting outpost, called Gateway, which will serve as a waypoint in lunar orbit.

Through Gateway, which is scheduled to be in place by the middle of this decade, we’ll supply the equipment and commodities to support the Artemis missions, which are all about getting us back to the moon, and then developing the technologies, systems, and human protocols we need to push on to Mars.

This is a big step. The International Space Station operates about 250 miles above the Earth. Now we’re talking about going to a lunar orbit that’s closer to 250,000 miles away.

At this distance, communication is delayed, and the radiation environment is much more severe. That has a huge impact on humans, of course, but also on structures and electronics.

And today is not like the Apollo era. Our budget is limited. We need to leverage industry and make it commercially viable for people to work and live in deep space. Our piece of this is developing the supply chain that will enable humans to maintain a permanent presence farther from Earth.

Just like my previous roles, this one is super exciting. While it might seem haphazard, I feel like my career has evolved organically, and I’ve been fortunate to step from one great job to another.

You can build on what you’ve done and learned and take it to the next level. That’s a life lesson I never tire of discovering.

Never give up

Outside work, I paddle on a dragon boat with a team of other cancer survivors, as well as on my outrigger canoe and a standup paddle board.

We have a mantra for when you’re in a race and something unplanned happens, for instance, running into another boat or encountering rough water—you have to just keep paddling.

It’s also a good mantra at work or when dealing with challenges in your personal life: "Just keep paddling!"

Jennifer Lyons Answers the Big Questions

1. Along with the book Cosmos, what other books or movies have had a significant impact on your life?

I became a Star Wars fan when the first movie was released and I still love the series. The movies are thrilling and the story arcs are so creative. My daughters are big fans as well, and it’s interesting to see these films become iconic across generations.

2. If you could gain a superpower, what would it be?

The ability to propagate empathy. We are in a time and place where we need to look out for each other. If more people projected more caring and kindness, the things we could do would be amazing.

3. What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Don’t sell yourself short. Put yourself out there and give it a try. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

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