Melanie Grande works in mission design and systems analysis at NASA’s Langley Research Center, where she has contributed to planning for human exploration of both the Moon and Mars. Starting in Langley’s Space Mission Analysis Branch (SMAB) as a Pathways co-op student in 2016, Melanie currently works as an aerospace engineer on the Mars Architecture Team, where she is involved in exploring possible Mars mission campaigns and modeling the many decisions needed for the Mars architecture.

Who or what inspired you to choose your career and why?

When I was in middle school, we went on a class field trip to NASA Kennedy Space Center, and I was absolutely amazed by the rockets, the exploration of the Moon, and everything about space. I decided to be an astronaut right then and there! Eventually, I also learned about engineering and how engineering was a career where people solve hard problems with creativity, and that appealed to me. I studied aerospace engineering in college, and eventually I found a Pathways position in SMAB, which offered me an opportunity to work on human space exploration and to solve the big picture problems, and I’ve been doing it ever since!

What do you find most rewarding about working with NASA?

I feel inspired by our mission to send humans to explore the Moon and Mars, and I also love working with so many passionate people who, just like me, enjoy chewing on high-level problems. NASA is the leading organization in the world for space exploration, and it’s because everyone at NASA is working hard every day to make these incredibly challenging missions possible. On top of that, I also really appreciate how my team and my branch have encouraged me to take on new opportunities and grow in a way that has really shaped my career so far.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I find public policy quite interesting, and more than anything, I see how regulatory support is critical not only for the aerospace industry but for human exploration in particular. So, outside of my regular job, I also serve on the AIAA Public Policy Committee as the Co-Chair of the Advocacy Working Group. It’s a great opportunity to help organize events both on Capitol Hill and for AIAA members to raise awareness for aerospace industry issues. Outside of that, I also enjoy traveling as much as I can, skiing, and working on crochet projects.

How does your background and heritage contribute to your perspective and approach in your role at NASA?

Being a woman in engineering, I’ve always been aware of being part of a minority—there were plenty of jokes in college about being noticeable, being one of only 5 or so women. And I didn’t have any role models of female engineers that I knew growing up. But my family has always encouraged me to work hard and follow my dreams. Also, I had a pretty diverse cohort of aerospace engineering peers in college, and we all banded together to survive the late nights in the Aero Lab! It’s a little different now—there are a lot of awesome female leaders and role models in NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate! But I still carry with me the perspective that we all have to work together and use our unique and diverse strengths, because otherwise, we won’t ever be able to make it all the way to Mars.

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