Name: Holly Griffith
Location: Houston, TX
Occupation: Engineer/Space Shuttle Flight Controller
When a child declares that they want to be an astronaut when they grow up, rarely do they stick with that idea all the way through adulthood. Holly Griffith is an exception to the rule. Growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, she always wanted to be an astronaut, and today she’s one of the people behind the scenes when space shuttles hit the sky.
Holly was greatly influenced by her father, who was a huge fan of science fiction, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Her family also had a telescope, which allowed this young Princess Leia wannabe to gaze at the stars. Holly’s dad helped her to build a rich fantasy life, which she needed to combat the very real medical emergencies that occurred all too regularly at her house.
“My dad had COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). He would have to be rushed to the emergency room at random times of the day or night because he wouldn’t be able to breathe. When I was younger, my mom wouldn’t want to leave me alone in the house, so I would go along. Lots of times it would be at two or three in the morning, and we would stay there for several hours. Because of this, I’d miss part of school the next morning, so I was continuously having to catch up on my work,” Holly recalls.
Even though she played catch-up in school, and faced health crises at home, Holly never felt that she was limited. Her parents always told her that she could achieve anything she desired, and they stressed the importance of education. She was pushed to get a degree, and was supported by her parents as she decided to study engineering, with the hope that one day she could work for NASA. Using her engineering degree and applying her passion for space allowed Holly to become a Flight Controller for the Space Shuttle Electrical Power System after applying for a job at Johnson Space Center.
Although the work varies tremendously depending on their schedule, a typical, non-flying day for Holly consists of training simulations, ranging from four to eight hours, and then a Flight Controller Training Session for two hours. There’s also paperwork and meetings, just like any other job. When there’s a shuttle flying, three teams work in Mission Control non-stop. “On the last Shuttle mission, STS-131, I was coming in at 1AM and getting off at 10AM,” Holly says. “We also work weekends and holidays. Orbital mechanics don’t change for our calendars!”
Holly’s first certified flight was STS-117. She remembers that all did not go as planned. “Some of the computers on the International Space Station stopped working, these computers controlled altitude adjustments for the Station. We were docked and having to use the Shuttle to control the altitude for the Station, since it couldn’t do it on its own. We had to power down and conserve fuel so that we could stay docked longer and give engineers on the ground more time to troubleshoot the problem. If we didn’t, then we’d have to abandon the Station,” she says. “Luckily, we figured out what was causing the problem and we were able to fix it, but when it was all going on it was very stressful.” Talk about a hard day at work! Continue reading Holly Griffith