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Q&A: Talking with Jacobs’ NASA Johnson Space Center VP, Dr. Joy Kelly

Jacobs’ Clear Lake Group VP and General Manager at NASA Johnson Space Center Dr. Joy Kelly talks career, her STEAM journey and how we’re helping #ShapeTheWorld of human spaceflight and things like cosmic dust.

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), Jacobs provides critical support to JSC's Engineering Directorate and Exploration, Integration, and Science Directorate to provide integrated engineering design, testing and verification supporting NASA's Artemis program to land the first woman and next man on the moon, preparing us for human missions to Mars.

For more on the out-of-this-world work we’re doing at JSC, click here and read more in this International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) feature with our VP and General Manager at JSC.

In honor of INWED, we’re connecting virtually with our team of thinkers, dreamers and doers around the world to showcase the work we do every day to #ShapeTheWorld.

For this feature, we talked with Jacobs VP and General Manager at Johnson Space Center Dr. Joy Kelly about career, her STEAM journey and how Jacobs is helping shape human spaceflight and things like cosmic dust.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

Seeing the strength of our culture in action on a daily basis.  I get a strong sense of fulfillment seeing our team working together serving our NASA customer and supporting each other.

We’re publishing this article in honor of International Women in Engineering Day. What inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

Math was always my favorite subject in school from a very early age.  In my senior year in high school I was considering becoming a mathematician.  I asked my high school calculus teacher what he thought and his advice was “you love math and you’re good at science.  Do yourself a favor and become an engineer.  You’ll have a lot of options in life.”  So, I took his advice and am glad I did!

This year’s #INWED theme is #ShapeTheWorld – you lead our work with NASA’s Johnson Space Center that’s shaping human spaceflight and astromaterials curation – tell us a bit about that.   

 I could talk for hours about this!  We do everything from working with NASA and other contractors to develop the next generation space suit that will be used when NASA lands the first woman and next man on the moon; to providing analysis for vehicles that dock to the International Space Station, to working on humanoid robots and rovers to conducting basic research to determine mineral resources on the moon and Mars to curation of all the astromaterials samples (from moon rocks to meteorites to cosmic dust).  We also partnered with NASA and a subcontractor to develop, manufacture and conduct the certification testing for the re-entry parachute system that will be used on Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft.  How cool is that?!

If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

Walking my dog with my husband, working out, cooking, kayaking, having friends over (now in our backyard at least 8-feet-apart and with no more than six people), or abstract painting with acrylic on canvas. 

Most interesting career moment?

I don’t really have a single most interesting career moment.  I have enjoyed each phase of my career in different industries and there have been many very interesting moments in each of them.

What’s something you learned in the last week?

Given the current events right now, the most important thing I have learned through participation last week is that uncomfortable conversations can be a very powerful way to bring understanding, empathy, compassion, unity and change for equality.

Most proud career moment?

The launch of STS-114 in 2005, which was the first return-to-flight mission after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. Jacobs had just won the contract in February of 2005 at the Johnson Space Center supporting the Engineering and Science Directorates, and our team, who had worked for another contractor for decades, stayed focused on the mission, accepted our new leadership, and together we all felt a deep sense of pride for our part in the successful mission.

What’s a story that your family always tells about you?

That I didn’t know what Hon. meant.  When my sister said it stood for “the Honorable” I told her they didn’t teach that in engineering school!

People would be surprised to know that I….

Applied to be an astronaut.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?

That integrity is at the forefront of our core values.  Without that, nothing else matters.  That leads to the culture we have and the difference we can make in the world.

About Jacobs

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable. We’re powered by more than 55,000 people across the globe who deliver innovative scientific, technical, professional and program-management solutions for public and private clients around the world.

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