When Angelica Baker was young, her mother took her to a local library for preschool storytime. On that day, the library was hosting a NASA astronaut, who spoke to the children about space and even helped them try on a space suit.
“I’ve wanted to be an astronaut ever since,” said Baker, who hails from Canton, Georgia.
Now a resident of Pass Christian, Baker has not made it beyond the Earth’s reaches, but she is pursuing space in her own way. She works as a mechanical operations engineer at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, the nation’s largest rocket propulsion test site.
At Stennis, Baker helps test rocket engines and stages that power space exploration, including those for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). NASA is building SLS to carry humans on deep space missions, to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program and, eventually, to Mars.
Baker is trained to work across all three of the Stennis test complexes – the A complex where RS-25 engines are being tested to help power the SLS core stage, the B complex where the integrated SLS core stage will be tested and the E complex where various NASA and commercial systems and components are tested for space travel. Her current primary project is on the E-3 Test Stand, where she serves as a test conductor for commercial and NASA projects.
Baker began her work at Stennis as a Pathways intern in 2013. NASA Pathways Programs provide opportunities for students and recent graduates to be considered for federal employment through internship, recent graduates and fellowship initiatives.
For her internship, Baker worked in the Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate with the A Test Complex mechanical operations team. The experience led to fulltime – and fulfilling – employment at Stennis following her graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2015.
“I love the challenge of working in the test complexes,” she said. “There’s always many different, exciting projects going on and lots of variety in the ways I can contribute.”
Baker said she really enjoys working with test teams. “I think we get along well considering how much time we spend together on long test days.” Baker already has made strides in her work. She was one of two Stennis participants in the NASA FIRST (Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success and Teamwork) Program for 2018-19. FIRST is NASA’s leadership development program for early career employees.
Overall, Baker characterizes the Stennis workplace as a very “friendly” culture. She also has seen improvement in workplace diversity, although more remains to be done, she added.
During SLS core stage testing next year, Baker will serve as propellant transfer engineer, specifically for liquid hydrogen. The role places her squarely on the front lines of NASA’s Artemis Program, which will use the SLS rocket to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. Stennis has been testing RS-25 engines for the SLS rocket since January 2015. It also has completed extensive modifications of the B-2 Test Stand and its systems in preparation for core stage testing.
“I’m excited to finally test the core stage,” Baker said. “Apollo engineers (who sent the first humans to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s) were my heroes in school, so now I feel like I am helping to recapture that excitement that they had for space travel today.
“I am really proud of the work we do here at Stennis, testing some of the most complicated machines and doing it well,” she continued. “We have one of the coolest jobs in the agency.”
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