HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – NASA’s Kathryn Henkel Kynard has spent a career working main propulsion systems, first for the space shuttle and now for Ares I, the crew launch vehicle that will carry the Orion spacecraft and its crew to Earth orbit in the coming decade.

Kynard is systems engineering integration lead for the main propulsion system and integrated production team for the Ares I upper stage. She and her team, part of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are responsible for integrating all main propulsion system hardware components, software and avionics into the upper stage and J-2X engine, which will power the stage to orbit. This hardware, which includes the valves, feedlines and tanks, are vital to the operation of the stage’s main propulsion system.

“Our role in designing and developing the upper stage propulsion system is a big communications effort,” Kynard said. “We make sure everyone is talking and the flow of information is communicated across functional areas. If we have a design change, we keep everyone informed to ensure the system will work properly once all components are integrated. We’re striving to meet NASA’s requirements for a safe, reliable flight.”

A native of Santa Monica, Calif., Kynard’s career path didn’t lead directly to NASA. Her family moved to Scottsbluff, Neb., when she was four. She then enlisted in the U.S. Army right out of high school, serving as a Korean linguist from 1985 to 1989. Kynard left the military in 1989 and headed to college, graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from California State University Northridge. In 2003, she received her master’s degree in systems architecture and engineering from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Kynard went to work for Boeing-Rocketdyne in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1996, as an engineer, analyzing system operations for the start and shutdown of the space shuttle main engines. It was a job that gave her a great appreciation for the inner workings of an engine system – an appreciation and knowledge-base that led Kynard to set her sights on NASA. “I really loved what I was doing – working on rocket engine hardware. It just seemed obvious that the next step was to work for NASA,” she said.

Kynard joined NASA in 2000 as a rocket engine systems analyst for shuttle upgrades in the Marshall Center’s Engineering Directorate. She also conducted analysis for the Fastrac engine, a liquid oxygen and kerosene fueled engine developed as part of NASA’s Advanced Space Transportation Program, which sought new technologies to dramatically reduce the cost of getting to space. A year later, Kynard became subsystems manager for the Co-optimized Booster for Reusable Applications (COBRA) engine project. Part of NASA’s Space Launch Initiative, the project developed a prototype reusable engine design as a candidate propulsion system for a new launch vehicle.

From 2002 to 2004, Kynard was deputy project manager for the Rocket Engine Prototype Project, or RS-84, in Marshall’s Next Generation Launch Technology Office. She helped lead design, development and testing of the kerosene-fueled prototype booster engine. From 2004 to 2005, she was co-chair of the shuttle propulsion systems integration group, which included representatives from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston; Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.; and all shuttle contractors. The group worked technical issues related to propulsion integration activities for the shuttle.

“We reviewed all system-level issues from an engineering perspective,” Kynard said. “It was a very interesting job that involved all the centers and contractors that owned shuttle hardware and led design and development work. When a topic came up for discussion, you had all the key players there to discuss and identify the impact across the board.”

It was a job Kynard said proved invaluable to her current position with the Ares project. “For shuttle, the hardware already exists,” she said. “With Ares, we’ve been given the opportunity to start at the beginning – to take lessons learned and apply them to the design and development phase before hardware is built.”

For Kynard, being part of the team that develops NASA’s new fleet of launch vehicles is a dream come true. “I am excited about my job and about NASA’s exploration goals,” she said. “It is always fun to work something new, and I feel lucky to be a part of this team.”

Kynard has some advice for young girls considering joining her to help NASA explore the solar system. “Be persistent. You have to have a goal and a strong desire to want to achieve it,” she said. “Sometimes it takes time to reach your goals in life, but don’t take a break. Study hard and stay in school, keep working at it, and you will succeed.”

For information about NASA’s Ares projects on the Web, visit: