Growing up in Louisville, KY, Tracy Drain learned from an early age about the amazing world of STEM. Her mother was interested in engineering topics, though she worked at McDonald’s and not a lab. She saw that Tracy was passionate about science, though, and worked hard to help Tracy be the first one in her family to get a college degree. Tracy went to the University of Kentucky and then got a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology where she learned how automated vehicles worked and dealt with hard conditions. This set her up for a career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA and a life flying spaceships!
At JPL, Tracy works as a flight systems engineer for projects like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Juno mission to Mars, and the upcoming Psyche mission to the asteroid belt (launching 2022). “When you think about a spacecraft and all the different parts that are necessary to make a spacecraft work,” Tracy says, “there are engineers who focus on making each of those specific systems. But a flight systems engineer is responsible for knowing enough about all those things that we can make sure they come together in a design that will accomplish the overall goals of the mission.”
Tracy loves working at NASA, which she frequently says in interviews and media appearances. She has been interviewed on her many projects and also about the movie Hidden Figures, the story of a group of other black, female engineers at NASA that Tracy said was inspirational. She plays clarinet and continues to love science fiction books, following a career path that she dreamed of with her mother decades ago. In a NASA interview, Tracy summed things up this way: “I really wish someone had told me that the important thing about being a scientist or an engineer is learning how to think critically, learning how to be creative, learning problem solving and learning how to learn so that you get a fundamental understanding of things so you can attack new problems you’ve never seen before.
Featured image: “Hidden Figures|Modern Figures” from 20th Century Fox