Jacky Silva-Martinez knows what it takes to make humans and spacecraft work together in harmony, something that will be important for long-term human space exploration. As the human systems integration manager for NASA’s Gateway program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, she oversees the human requirements and makes sure the different modules of the planned orbiting outpost are ready to support human explorers.
NASA’s Gateway Program is central to the agency’s long-term human exploration goals in deep space, including the Moon. The Gateway team is developing a number of systems that all have to work well together: integrated habitation systems, docking ports, environmental control, life-support systems, avionics and control systems, radiation mitigation and monitoring, fire safety systems, autonomous capabilities, and crew health capabilities. All of these systems and subsystems will help NASA prove the capabilities needed for missions deeper into space.
In technical terms, Silva-Martinez integrates and advocates human factors in hardware and software design for the Gateway. This includes making sure technical and management processes consider the needs of humans throughout the program’s life cycle.
What are you most excited to share about Gateway and what it will do for human exploration as part of the Artemis program?
I am excited about how Gateway will allow us to have a sustained presence for lunar operations. We will have access to different parts of the Moon, be able to refuel in a near-rectilinear halo orbit; and, most of all, Gateway will provide a habitable outpost where humans can explore and solve problems, which many times robots or automated systems cannot.
What keeps me even more excited is the journey, working across directorates, centers, and our collaborations with commercial and international partners. This integration between teams across the globe helps us make our designs even better. I welcome and appreciate the diversity of thought from the Gateway community.
How has your personal background influenced your work in the Gateway program?
I come from the land of the Incas, Peru, and one of the many values that was instilled in me comes from the Quechua word “ayni,” which can be translated to teamwork. We are all part of a system, whichever we identify with. As such, although we can do some things on our own, we can achieve greater things with others. The International Space Station is a great example of that, and now Gateway has expanded those collaborations. I bring that ayni/teamwork strength to my human systems integration role within Gateway.
As a mechanical and aerospace engineer in a mostly male-dominated field, [and] as a woman and Latina, I have had different challenges throughout my career, which have required me to be flexible and be open to change. Gateway (and Artemis, for that matter) brings us new challenges in how we do work, both internally and outside the agency. We experience constant changes in direction and, thanks to my personal experiences, I can quickly adapt. I would say that this also applies to today’s fastmoving world — our organizations need to be flexible and adaptable to change.
What has been your favorite memory while working at NASA?
I have had many great memories and it is hard to pick. Something related to Gateway is my participation in the NextSTEP ground tests back when this was just a conceptual study. I was the mission planner for those ground tests, including the engineering runs and tests with the commercial companies’ concepts. I developed the crew timelines in the Playbook software tool, which was designed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, using my International Space Station flight controller experience as real-time planning engineer. I provided training to participant crew members, coordinated with other teams the integration of electronic procedures into the timeline for crew operations, and worked console during real-time operations, communicating directly with the sim (simulation) flight director. I find it amazing that I am working on the actual flight project that came out from those ground tests!
Being surrounded by such a high-performing group of people, what’s a great piece of advice you’ve learned?
We all bring our own unique experiences; everyone has ideas and should be allowed and encouraged to share them, because diversity generates innovation.
In line with Johnson’s DARE | UNITE | EXPLORE emphasis, how do you see yourself fitting into the vision?
Very much aligned, back when Mark Geyer was the Johnson director and I was the chair of the Human Systems Integration (HSI) Employee Resource Group, he highlighted HSI in one of the five principles within DARE | UNITE | EXPLORE — revolutionize the human experience in space. These are embedded in my daily activities working with commercial and international partners, with various Johnson directorates, and other NASA centers. Each of us bring diverse expertise, talent, and ideas to the table to design and build these bold missions that benefit humanity. We are evolving as a center and, in our efforts to change our business paradigm on how we operate with new partnerships, I believe DARE | UNITE | EXPLORE is the model that is helping us propel those efforts.
Where did you grow up?
If you could temporarily live (or visit) in another part of the world, where would that be?
I would increase the scope to the question — to another part of space — and that would be the Moon.
How long have you been at Johnson?
I have been working at Johnson since 2015. I worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Lockheed Martin prior to coming to Johnson.
Describe yourself in five words.
Dedicated, tenacious, respectful, and a transformational leader.
Name one thing we would be surprised to learn about you.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) nominated me for the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Young Space Leader Award, and I received a guest invitation by the IAF president to attend the 69th International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, where they gave me this recognition.
Learn more about Silva-Martinez and don’t forget to follow Gateway on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news, milestones, and activities.
Meet Jacky Silva-Martinez, Gateway program human systems integration lead. Image Credit Cassie Klos, Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), Utah 2015.