in focus

While we go about our daily life commuting to work, planning meals and keeping our lawns in check, one Mt. Lebanon native is responsible for keeping the International Space Station running. Heather Rarick, a 1983 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, is one of 82 flight directors in the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and one of only seven women on the current roster of 27.
When Rarick graduated from Penn State in 1987 with a degree in aerospace engineering, she knew she wanted to work for NASA, but it would be another 14 years before that happened. In the meantime, she worked for Rockwell International in Pittsburgh and earned a master’s degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. In 2001, NASA hired her as the International Liaison Officer for Mission Control, and she shortly was promoted to chair of the Russian Joint Operations Panel. In 2006, she became a flight director.
The dream job made her “ecstatic and thrilled beyond belief,” Rarick says. “But there was also a seriousness that took over that said that this job requires my best at all times and that I have to continually better myself. Every day I have to learn new things and how to deal with new problems.”
A day at work for Rarick is “never the same twice,” she says. That might cause ulcers for some people but it’s her favorite part of the job. As the Space Station continues to grow and change, so does Rarick’s job description. In February, Rarick became the Mission Operations Directorate Manager for the Commercial Crew Program (try putting that on a name tag!). She provides expertise to other companies working with NASA to fly into space. These days, NASA buys space on Russian spacecraft to get our astronauts to the Space Station but the agency is working with private American companies to provide that service. Rarick is helping those private companies set up those space agreements.
Rarick says her job’s biggest surprise has been how much time she spends teaching new employees how to do their jobs, and how much she enjoys mentoring them.
Rarick, who grew up on Oxford Boulevard and went to Hoover Elementary school, misses Mt. Lebanon. “I wish I could find a job there that fits my career…but sadly there aren’t many opportunities for Aerospace Engineers,” Rarick says.