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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

MAGE: Susan Horn Spencer
Susan Horn Spencer is a systems engineer for the Flight Projects Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Susan Spencer,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Memphis,Tenn., child who built models of lunar landers, now builds real space hardware

Nov. 27, 2001 - Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Susan Horn --fascinated by the Apollo Moon landings -- built models of the lunar lander. This week, equipment Susan Horn Spencer helped to build will carry experiments into orbit via NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour.

“I remember writing an essay in Janice King’s class at Harding Academy in Memphis on what I wanted to do when I grew up,” recalls Spencer, a systems engineer for the Flight Projects Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“I said I wanted to work for NASA. Now I’m living that dream.”

Spencer, her husband Jeff and their two children will be at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch as the Shuttle lifts off with hardware that Spencer helped design, manufacture and test: the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier. Spencer was among those who prepared the carrier to transport experiments inside the Shuttle for its first flight, now set for launch Nov. 29 on the STS-108 Space Shuttle mission.

“Getting the lightweight carrier ready for its flight on the Shuttle has been one of the highlights of my career,” says Spencer. “The combination of a talented design team and the close coordination among people at five NASA centers made it possible to get this new carrier ready for its maiden flight in less than a year.”

The Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier makes it possible to carry more science experiments in the Shuttle or quickly deliver spare parts to the International Space Station. When the Shuttle returns to Earth with the lightweight carrier and its experiments in December, Spencer and her team will evaluate how it performed on its first flight. They’ll be looking for ways to improve the carrier. For example, they want to add features allowing the Space Station’s robot arm to pick up the carrier to move it from the Shuttle to remote locations on the Space Station. This would make it easier for astronauts to unload spare parts and move them to the Station. It would also make it possible to do experiments on different parts of the Station’s exterior structure.

Spencer began her career at NASA in 1989 and has worked on such projects as studying future space transportation systems, lunar telescopes, and scientific spacecraft. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, and attended high school at Harding Academy.

“I was always interested in math and science, so becoming an engineer was a natural choice for me,” says Spencer.

When Spencer is not getting equipment ready for Space Shuttle flights, she enjoys making music. She plays the French horn in the Madison Community Band and hand bells at her church. She, her husband Jeffrey Spencer -- also an engineer at the Marshall Center who works on the Space Shuttle Main Engines that lift the Shuttle into orbit – and their two children live in Madison, Ala., near Huntsville. Her parents, J.C. and Myra Horn, formerly of Memphis, now reside in Paris, Ark.

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

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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