My interest in materials engineering stemmed from wanting to work in the biomaterials field designing prosthetics, implants, and other bio-compatible components. However, I worked various internships in the power and oil industries and fell in love with failure analysis—or, as I like to call it, the CSI (crime scene investigation) of engineering. A failure analyst plays detective by using engineering principles and highly advanced microscopy techniques to determine the root cause of failure of a hardware component. I attended Pennsylvania State University for a master’s degree and was blessed when the NASA recruiter that I talked to during a career fair happened to be a materials engineering division chief at KSC in search of someone to work in the Materials Failure Analysis Laboratory. I visited KSC a few months later and fell in love with the NASA culture and the energy that exuded from the current shuttle/International Space Station work, as well as from the history of the Apollo Program.
I accepted the job and started working in August 2005. My position at KSC has been constantly evolving and I have had amazing opportunities to grow professionally and personally. My passion has always been in failure analysis. It is greatly gratifying to say that I am one of a handful of people in the world who get to work on hardware that has been in space or is part of the launch structures. One of the more personally gratifying aspects of my job is to go to schools or participate in outreach activities where I get to talk to young students about the exciting work of a materials engineer at NASA so that they may consider their niche within the NASA family. One of the degrees that my dad received was in counseling for multicultural children, and he uses my story to show them that the sky is the limit, or better yet, that they too can reach the stars.
A recent memorable moment was showing my parents and my husband the Failure Analysis Laboratory during Family Day at KSC and seeing their pride in the work that I perform. One thing I particularly appreciate about the NASA culture is that it embraces well-rounded employees and presents these opportunities to share the joys of work at KSC with family and friends. Mine is one of a multitude of interesting stories about NASA employees. Although my career is young, I am driven by the meaningful work that I currently have and look forward to the opportunities to come.
Although Clara Wright had to learn a new language and adapt to a different culture at the age of 8, when her family moved from Colombia to the United States, she was always fluent in the language of hard work, perseverance, and integrity – thanks to the example set forth by her parents. Today, Ms. Wright supports failure analysis of metallic components at Kennedy Space Center, and assists fire and mishap investigations to provide recommendations that are used to prevent future failures and ensure personnel and equipment safety and reliability. Even though she has the “job of her dreams,” she admits that her participation in outreach programs and in talking to young students about NASA are the most gratifying aspects of her work. In fact, she has been such an inspiration that her father now uses her as an example of how to succeed. “One of the degrees that my dad received was in counseling for multicultural children, and he uses my story to show them that the sky is the limit, or better yet, that they too can reach the stars.” Ms. Wright holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and master’s degrees from Pennsylvania State University in materials science and engineering with a metals specialty.