According to CNNTech, now is a good time to start tuning into the business of space. And Tiera Fletcher, a young rocket engineer at Boeing Company, is in the mix as one of the talented individuals who is working on rocket assembly through the Boeing/NASA space launch system that will eventually take astronauts to Mars.
A recent aerospace engineering graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fletcher, just 22 years old, began her journey at the age of 11 through a program at her elementary school that exposed students to the foundations of aerospace engineering.
“At the time, I was already interested in STEM, but I did not know what the E stood for. I had never heard of an engineer and I had never ever heard the word aerospace. That program exposed me to the STEM fields, and I have been attached ever since,” she told TNJ.com in a recent interview.
At Boeing, Fletcher supports the engine section of the rockets, which attaches the engine to the rocket itself to make sure the technicians have the tools and resources needed for a successful installation. Her role is more in design engineering at the moment, although she has a structural analysis background, which, she says, supports her current tasks.
And as with any career discipline, there are challenges. “In the aerospace arena, the biggest challenge is in meeting deadlines to get to Mars. There is a new space race happening right now that is no longer a race to get to the moon; it’s now a race to get to Mars,” she says.
Aside from the race to get to Mars, Fletcher says there’s also a lot of discussion around commercial space travel.
Based in New Orleans at the Michoud Assembly Facility where Boeing, NASA’s chief contractor, is assembling aircrafts for the Space Launch System project, Fletcher began working for Boeing in 2015 through a summer internship and continued working there part-time throughout the academic year during her senior year of college.
“After I graduated from MIT in June of 2017, I began working at Boeing full-time in August in Huntsville, Alabama, doing structural analysis, primarily working on the upper stage of the rocket. In January, I relocated to New Orleans and am now working on the assembling of the rocket,” she says.
When she’s not on the assembly floor at Michoud, she’s mentoring young people who, understandably, ask a range of questions about Fletcher’s career.
“In speaking with the youth, I get tons of amazing questions such as how did I get exposed to STEM, and how did I get to where I am today. But I also get difficult questions like what is a Hohmann Transfer (an orbital maneuver that transfers a satellite or spacecraft from one circular orbit to another)! Or how long will it take for us to get to Mars or how long will we actually stay on Mars,” she shares.
She’s also asked about her experience in being an African American woman in a Caucasian, male dominated space.
“I have definitely been the only female and sometimes the only African American person on the teams I work on. Not having someone there who looks like you can be sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes even intimidating because you know you have much more to prove than anyone in the room. But it just encourages me to do my best,” she notes.
In the future, she and her husband hope to launch a non-profit that will evolve into a fellowship foundation for kids in STEM. But, “for now,” she says, “we are just exposing kids to aerospace engineering and STEM, in general, and providing all sorts of resources with regard to the programs we are involved in. We make this information known to both kids and parents as well because parents play a very vital role in getting kids to the level of where they need to be. Mine played an extremely vital role in my pathway.”
A self-described people person who enjoys guiding people to their purpose and potential, Fletcher says she’s more than happy to make time for aspiring engineers of tomorrow.
“I am working on the coolest project in the world. I am literally contributing to something that will change the history of mankind – not just the US – the entire globe!”