Robinson is the Mechanical Test Operations Branch chief, Operations
Division, at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.|
Stennis Space Center, Miss.
tester lives his dream
Miss., Aug. 2, 2002 --
He was a fan of the Apollo program. He watched the early launches
on a black-and-white television in a Louisiana classroom. The images
of men walking on the Moon mixed well with images from the science
fiction novels he read. He dreamed often of space. Barry Robinson
never doubted that one day he would work for NASA. He just never
imagined it would be in Mississippi.
with a lot of people about careers in engineering and in aerospace
while I was in school," said Robinson, a mechanical engineering
major at Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge. "My
plan was to take a job with an industry contractor and after a few
years migrate to a position with NASA."
In 1988, near
the end of his senior year at A&M, Robinson was invited to interview
with the aerospace industry contractor. The series of interviews
led him to NASA's Stennis Space Center. "I was shocked to learn
there was a NASA facility in Mississippi," Robinson said. "Although
I had seen the signs along Interstate 10, it never registered with
me that this was really a NASA center. I took one look at the Space
Shuttle Main Engine and accepted the job on the spot."
of his plan was under way.
the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International at Stennis - a
primary contractor for NASA responsible for the testing program
of the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) - as a test operations engineer.
they told me I would be responsible for knowing everything there
was to know about these facilities and the SSME, I thought to myself,
'Who are they kidding?'" Robinson said. "If the engine
itself weren't intimidating enough for a new engineer, I was overwhelmed
with a sense of personal responsibility for making sure it was safe
for flight into space. I was living out a dream. I didn't want to
mess this up."
at Stennis Space Center, Miss., hoist a Space Shuttle Main
Engine into position for a test firing.
videos of a Space Shuttle Main Engine Test.
Robinson said, Rocketdyne didn't leave him on his own to figure
things out. His training was placed in the hands of seasoned engineers.
"There was probably a good 20- to 25-year difference in the
ages of the guys on the job and the newest of the new hires."
Robinson said. "I had a true sense of being mentored. These
guys were handing down their knowledge and their experience. They
wanted us to know what they had learned. Suddenly, I understood
that my real responsibility was to learn as much as I could. With
that, I got my feet under me. I knew I could do this. I had always
been a good student."
out to learn every aspect of test operations. "I was hungry
for knowledge and for experience," Robinson said. "I wanted
to know what happened before, during and after an engine got to
Stennis. It was important for me to know the process."
of the process led Robinson to become one of the first black test
conductors at Stennis and later among even fewer engine systems
engineers with "test conductor" as a part of their resume.
of his plan unfolded in 1994. He joined NASA as an aerospace technician
in mechanical experimental equipment.
you think of Barry Robinson, you think of a test guy," said
NASA's Robert Lightfoot, director of the Propulsion Test Directorate
(PTD) at Stennis. "Barry has a real understanding of the value
of a disciplined approach to running a test facility. That understanding
is tempered with the common sense required to get the project smoothly
said a good example of the assets Robinson brings to the table can
be seen in his work on the MC-1 project, formerly known as the Low
Cost Technologies Fastrac Engine Program. "The project was
struggling when Barry was moved into the program," Lightfoot
said. "It was behind schedule and suffering from technical
issues. The team was working as hard as they possibly could but
lacked the focus that an experienced test guy can give. We put Barry
out there, and the team jelled almost instantly."
The team was
honored with the Interorganizational Group Award in 1999 and a Group
Achievement Award in August 2000. The program received the NASA
Turning Goals Into Reality Award for the Fastrac Engine Product
Development Team in September that same year.
success with the MC-1 project at Stennis led him to work nearly
a year in the Stennis Project Office at the Rocket-dyne facilities
in Santa Susana, Calif., when the program moved into what became
its final testing stages. Here, he served as the test operations
served as chair of the Operational Readiness Inspection Commit-tee
for return of the A-1 test stand to SSME testing. He serves as co-chair
of the Stennis Training and Certification Board and has assisted
in rewriting the PTD operational instructions, and in defining and
implementing the Operations Division training plan.
says he is beginning to see himself as one of those "old"
guys whose job is to pass down knowledge. As chief of the Mechanical
Test Operations Branch in the Operations Division of the Propulsion
Test Directorate, he mentors and implements operational policies
and processes for component and rocket engine testing.
"I am responsible
for overseeing 16 mechanical engineers as they are moved around
to the various test facilities for responsibilities including conducting
hot-fire tests," said Robinson. "It is my job to see that they comply
with site standards and directorate objectives. I want to make sure
they get the training and educational opportunities needed to improve
their job performances. It is my job to give back what I have been
and photos for this story were provided by John C. Stennis Space Center.