There is no such thing as a routine space launch.
Every successful launch is the end result of years of research, engineering and precision manufacturing. Each payload is of a highly-sensitive nature. And it is never cheap.
Cindy Nafus’ company has delivered more than 130 satellites to orbit for important purposes such as national security communications, severe weather tracking and GPS navigation. These payloads account for more than $70 billion in satellite assets.
Nafus is vice president of Production Operations and Supply Chain for United Launch Alliance (ULA), and in this role she serves as the strategic leader responsible for the production of ULA’s Atlas V, Delta IV and Vulcan Centaur rockets.
Every launch is a massive undertaking, the enormity and significance of which is not lost on Nafus.
“Our rockets launch satellites that save lives, explore the universe, connect the world,” she said. “And soon we will launch astronauts from U.S soil. I am honored to be part of making history. Every launch I get goosebumps because what we do is so vitally important to so many.”
Her responsibilities are considerable leading the operation of the largest rocket factory in the western hemisphere — a factory that gets called on to propel those billions of dollars of critical assets into space.
As a key figure in a company with 100 percent mission success, Nafus has done her part in continuing Alabama’s prominence in the aerospace industry.
“Cindy embodies the criteria of a respected leader, advisor and mentor,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “She is integral to ULA’s mission success leading the operations in our Decatur rocket factory and serving our industry for more than 35 years. In 2019 alone, our Decatur factory is setting a record manufacturing year with more than 30 boosters in production. This would not be possible without Cindy’s strategic oversight and leadership.”
Nafus says she finds it “very gratifying” that her home state and region have become so integral to America’s space future and, in particular, its national security space missions.
“NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center is well known in Alabama, but I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they learn we build rockets in Decatur, Alabama!” she said. “I am amazed at how many people do not know we have a 1.5 million square foot rocket factory in North Alabama. But we do, and what we do is vital to national security space. Every employee that works in our factory and throughout ULA knows and never takes for granted how important what we do is to our country. It is humbling.”
Nafus began her career with the McDonnell Douglas Corporation where she worked in a quality support role on both the Spacelab and SPACEHAB Programs.
She can, however, draw a clear line between that start in the industry and her motivation for entering it.
“My dad started with Douglas Aircraft back in the late 1950s,” Nafus explained. “As I grew older my dad was transferred with McDonnell Douglas to Huntsville, Alabama to work on the Spacelab Program. After getting over the initial shock of moving from California to Alabama, I learned more about the aerospace industry through my dad and how much he loved what he did for a living.
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in business from Athens State University, it was time to pursue her dreams.
“In 1983, I applied at McDonnell Douglas so that I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, and almost 36 years later I can honestly say I have the best job in the world.”
She joined the Decatur, Alabama, operations team in 1999, after which she held several positions of increasing responsibility with The Boeing Company and then ULA, including director of Production Operations and vice president of Quality, Safety and Mission Success.
She has served in numerous positions of leadership in the community including board of director positions at the Decatur/Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Morgan County Economic Development Association and on the United Way Women’s Leadership Council. In 2016, Nafus was honored as a 2016 North Alabama Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction Award recipient.
Finally, Nafus had some encouraging words for any women looking at the aerospace industry as a career option.
“Aerospace is exciting, rewarding and fun!” she pointed out. “What used to be a male dominant industry, is no more. The executive vice president of Boeing is a woman, Lockheed Martin’s CEO is a woman and ULA’s Vice President of Operations is a woman. Come join us!”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Cindy Nafus a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News