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IMAGE: David Reynolds
David Reynolds (NASA/MSFC)

David Reynolds,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Auburn native follows in parents' footsteps in space program

May 2003 - David Reynolds was born with NASA in his blood. His parents worked to support America's first ventures to space. Now, Reynolds, a Marshall Center engineer, communicates with crews on the International Space Station, and was the designer of a "tool holder" that makes space jobs easier and safer.

David Reynolds was born with NASA in his blood. Growing up in a family in which both his parents worked in America's space program, it's only fitting the Auburn native would follow suit.

"When I was a little boy, I loved talking to my parents about what they did and how they helped NASA take America to the Moon," Reynolds recalled. "The chance to work at NASA and follow in their footsteps was a dream come true."

In the 1960s, David's mother, Marjean, was a charter member of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. When Marshall was created in 1960, Marjean Reynolds, along with many of her colleagues, transferred from the Army Ballistic Missile Command in Huntsville to take a position alongside many of NASA's first rocket team at Marshall. David's father, George, also had a hand in space, designing hardware for the Saturn V for one of NASA's contractors, Brown Engineering in Huntsville.

Today, David Reynolds supports one of NASA's key programs: the International Space Station. As a payload operations engineer in the Flight Projects Directorate and as a payload communications manager in the Payload Operations Center at Marshall -- the command post for all science operations on the Space Station -- Reynolds is responsible for designing, planning and carrying out operations for experiments on the orbiting laboratory, being built and constructed in space by NASA, in partnership with 15 nations.

"What makes my job so rewarding is seeing that the science gained from experiments on the International Space Station helps us on Earth, benefiting everything from better exercise equipment, to better crop yields, to medical research," Reynolds said.

Reynolds' family moved to Auburn when he was 2, and that's where he first became fascinated with flying by "hanging out" at the local airport. His parents still live in Auburn, but Reynolds' love for space flight would eventually bring him back to Huntsville.

His is a career path that began as an industrial design student at Auburn University. In 1987, Reynolds came to work at the Marshall Center as a cooperative education student, working as a visual information specialist designing patches and logos for payloads flown on the Space Shuttle. After graduation from Auburn two years later, Reynolds moved to Huntsville to join NASA fulltime.

Less than a decade later, in 1999, he became the lead systems engineer/implementation manager for a piece of equipment he had worked on in conjunction with industrial design students from Auburn University: the Payload Equipment Restraint System (PERS). He considers this "portable worksite" his biggest accomplishment, as it's earned him several NASA certificates of appreciation. Astronauts and cosmonauts use it today to secure cables, hand tools and odd-shaped items, so they don't float away in the weightless environment of space.

Reynolds' biggest job-related challenge came in 2001, when he was certified as a payload communications manager. In just six months, he trained and learned the day-to-day operations of the International Space Station in order to communicate with the crew on orbit. As the crew worked on various payloads in space, Reynolds was on the ground, ready to answer any questions they had.
Getting to know a few astronauts and cosmonauts has its share of fun, too. As a payload communications manager on Expedition Four, or the fourth crew on the Space Station, David worked closely with crewmembers Yuri Onufrienko, Dan Bursh and Carl Waltz.

"Waltz's nickname was Elvis, and he would occasionally talk to me with an Elvis accent…'Thank you, thank you very much,'' Reynolds said, recreating the mimic. Reynolds also played Jimmy Buffet trivia with Bursh, who is a fellow fan of the singer.

When he's not busy designing equipment for the Space Station, Reynolds designs unique Earth-based houses made with a variety of materials. Most are just on paper, said Reynolds. He's never really considered building any of them.

For now, he's just happy building the bridge to space exploration.

All text and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight Center.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/09/2003
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