Growing up in rural Morgan County, Ala., Loria West never dreamed she would
be part of the fast-paced, high-tech world of NASA. After all, she wasn’t
interested in science or engineering.

But last September, West found herself at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.,
preparing for the launch of U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis on Mission STS-106.

West joined NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., as a
summer intern in 1995 with the Future Assets Student Talent (FAST) program.
FAST – sponsored by Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, the Alabama
Department of Rehabilitation Services and NASA – is aimed at placing
disabled high school and college students in temporary summer jobs.

“I just couldn’t believe I was in the heart of it,” said West, a management
support assistant in the Space Shuttle Projects Office at the Marshall
Center. “I grew up hearing about NASA, but I always related it to rockets. I
never thought I would be part of it.” Marshall Center employees – including
support personnel – assist at every Shuttle launch.

West has worked for the Shuttle Office for the past five years.

When her summer with FAST ended, the Shuttle office hired her as a temporary
employee while she completed her business administration degree – with a
concentration in human resources — at Athens State University in Athens,
Ala. She is also a graduate of Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala.

West joined Marshall’s civil service team in August 2000 as a management
support assistant.

It’s not unusual to find her sitting at a desk other than her own. She
served as a “floater” – volunteering to fill in at other offices and gain
more experience.

“I like being part of the Space Shuttle’s success,” says West. Her
responsibilities include coordinating travel arrangements for Shuttle
Project Office managers, tracking the Shuttle travel budget and serving as
the training coordinator for approximately 200 people.

West has never been one to accept limits. At 9, she was severely injured
when her family’s car was hit head-on by a driver who had fallen asleep at
the wheel. Her parents, James and Diane West, were killed and West suffered
numerous injuries, including a broken back. Her two brothers had less
severe injuries.

West spent five months in Birmingham, Ala., hospitals before she was able to
join her brothers at the home of her aunt and uncle, Rhonda and Billy West
of Trinity, Ala.

“Yes, I have a wheelchair, but I’ve led a normal life,” says West, now 28.
“My family has always encouraged me to be independent.”

West is a graduate of West Morgan High School, Calhoun Community College and
Athens State University. She and her daughter, Gabrielle, live in Decatur.