The father of modern rocketry and the first director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Wernher von Braun, famously said, “I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with the greatest caution.”
As the 15th director of Marshall Space Flight Center — and the first woman ever to serve in that position — Jody Singer recognizes that going beyond the limits of perceived possibilities is an essential aspect to leading the center.
“It’s an honor to lead Marshall Space Flight Center as we push the boundaries of human space exploration and shape America’s return to the Moon,” Singer said upon her appointment to director in 2018. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise that are critical to missions that will take humans deeper into the solar system than ever before.”
While her love of science and space exploration led her into a career in the aerospace industry, the voice of one particular explorer who pushed beyond the limits resonated deeply.
“I remember when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, hearing Neil Armstrong proclaim, ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ inspired me to follow in those pioneering footsteps,” Singer told Yellowhammer News.
Singer is the latest to fill the role in a long line of distinguished directors at a place with a storied history.
Founded in 1960, the center was named in honor of General George C. Marshall, who served as Army chief of staff during World War II and secretary of state under President Harry Truman.
With an approximately $2.8 billion budget, Marshall Space Flight Center has a well-documented legacy in rocket engineering and is charged with innovation and technical development for the nation’s space systems.
No one is more responsible for Alabama sustaining its place of importance in the country’s space program than Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). He recently commented to Yellowhammer News about the work Singer has performed as director.
“Jody Singer’s innate understanding of key NASA projects, along with her many years of experience at Marshall Space Flight Center, have allowed her to successfully step into the position of center director,” remarked Senator Shelby. “Her dedication to the role Marshall plays in furthering American space exploration has been highlighted and recognized by many, and I look forward to our continued efforts to ensure MSFC and Alabama remain in the forefront of our nation’s capabilities in space.”
A native of Hartselle, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in industrial engineering, Singer has held numerous positions of increasing responsibility throughout her 32-year NASA career in the areas of human spaceflight, technology and science flight missions programs and projects.
From 2002 to 2007, she served as the first female project manager for the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project and led the team during the Columbia Return to Flight activities. From 2008 until the shuttle’s successful retirement in 2011, she served as the deputy manager in the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office.
From 2010 through 2012, she held deputy positions for three concurrent major programs: the Space Shuttle, Ares and the start-up of the Space Launch System (SLS). As the deputy program manager of the SLS at Marshall, she helped oversee nearly 3,000 civil servants and contractors involved in the developing and testing of the most powerful rocket ever built, one which has the ability to carry astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.
Among the numerous awards Singer has received during her NASA career are the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and two Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive Awards, the highest honor for career federal employees. She also received the Silver Snoopy Award from the NASA astronaut corps for her dedication and commitment to excellence and achievement in support of the human space program.
Yet, there is one aspect of her job that draws her focus perhaps more than any other.
“For me, it’s always been about the people,” Singer stated. “I am amazed at all the talented, amazing and dedicated people who work in the aerospace industry.”
Marshall Space Flight Center is one of NASA’s largest field installations, with nearly 6,000 on-site and near-site civil service and contractor employees. Economic impact estimates say that the center is, directly and indirectly, responsible for more than 24,000 jobs across the region.
The magnitude of that impact, and the people and families it affects, is not lost on Singer.
“When I look at how the ‘Rocket City’ has played a part, and will continue to be a part of writing the chapters of human space exploration and discovery, I am proud to be from Alabama,” she explained. “It is wonderful to contribute to something bigger than myself and important to our nation. It is so rewarding to wake up every day and know that I contribute to a workforce dedicated to discovering the unknown, enabling human space exploration and making a difference in our everyday lives here on earth.”
While von Braun cautioned against using the word “impossible” in the context of science and space exploration, that same mindset could also describe Singer’s advice to women entering the aerospace industry.
“Reach for your dreams, work hard, and don’t give up — even if it gets hard,” she counseled. “Reflecting on my own career, I know I would not have gotten where I am today without the guidance of others. So I would also say to women, seek out mentors and peers to help you grow into the leaders they are destined to become! The sky is the limit – literally.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Jody Singer 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