In 1995, after spending my entire life in the suburbs of New Orleans, La., we decided to move out of the city, settling 25 miles north of Stennis Space Center. At that time, I was a Special Projects Coordinator at an abstract firm which served law firms and real estate professionals in the New Orleans area. After commuting for a few years, it was time to find something closer to home, which is how I ended up at NASA as a Legal Technician in the Office of Chief Counsel. I have proudly been part of the NASA family since December 1998. I love it when someone asked where I work and when I say “NASA, more often than not they smile and say “Wow, that’s awesome.” Their expression reminds me of how privileged I am.
One cannot be a long-time resident of the Gulf Coast without acknowledging the impact of the truly watershed event of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One of my memorable moments was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall August 29, 2005. Katrina’s reach was great – 90,000 square miles. When I was able to return to work, I was dismayed to hear that approx. 1,000 people or one-quarter of the Stennis population needed housing assistance. I remember having a huge sense of guilt because my house survived, and I was the only one in my office that wasn’t displaced. During the recovery effort, two NASA Ames Research Center scientists contacted Stennis with the compassionate idea of “Families Helping Families” where an Ames family would “adopt” an SSC family in need. They had a list of volunteers waiting to help, and I was the liaison to find Stennis families needing aid. As families were matched, it was understood that once they were back on their feet and no longer in need, the recipient would “pay it forward.” Ames sent truckloads of clothing, household items, toys, etc. and to see the faces and hear the stories of survivors, was an experience I’ll never forget. Later, I went to Ames and shared “Lessons Learned” from the disaster as well as a huge “thank you” to Ames employees. I am so glad to have been part of that effort. A few of the matched families still keep in contact and it’s humbling to me to see the unexpected friendships that have grown and remain today from the harsh conditions of such disaster. Although I didn’t need assistance, I strive to “pay it forward” whenever the opportunity presents.
While Katrina has become an iconic event in the region, my career at NASA has been full of memorable moments. I used to think of NASA, in the same way as most people, as launching first to the moon, followed by launching shuttles every few months going to the International Space Station; I’ve seen 3 shuttle launches and the final landing of the shuttle program, the wheel stop of Atlantis in July, 2011. It is inspiring to be among the crowd, counting down the seconds, when the engines ignite and you feel the roar. Each launch, each mission, reminded of the direct link of Stennis Space Center, and Diane Sims! to one of the nation’s technological accomplishments.
Last year, I had the opportunity to work at NASA HQ on a detail for 7-1/2 months in the Launch Services Program, and then transferred to Space Communications and Navigation, both in the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. It was a fantastic experience. I learned that NASA does much more than launching shuttles and testing rocket engines. Working alongside those involved in overseeing launches, and the technology of communicating with low earth orbit as well as Deep Space Network and was enlightening and made me take a new look at the world around me here on Earth. Besides working at HQ, I loved living in the DC area, roaming the rich historical area I remember admiring the timeless, magnificent Capitol. It was that building that inspired me to paint again! After high school, I studied Fine Arts at Louisiana State University but decided that oil painting should be more of a hobby than a career. When my daughter was born, I put away my paints to enjoy watching her grow. After 22 years, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed painting but that joy can’t compare with the awe of being a Mother, what I consider my greatest accomplishment. When I returned home, I dusted off my easel and started painting right away…haven’t stopped since!
For Diane Sims, Hurricane Katrina was a not only a moment of destruction and guilt but also of belief and compassion in the human spirit. She recalls, “I remember having a huge sense of guilt because my house survived, and I was the only one in my office that wasn’t displaced.” During the recovery effort, two NASA Ames Research Center scientists contacted Stennis with the compassionate idea of Families Helping Families where an Ames family would “adopt” an NASA Stennis family in need. They had a list of volunteers waiting to help, and she was the liaison to find Stennis families needing aid. For Ms. Sims, it was about paying it forward. Today, she serves as Legal Assistant to the Office of Chief Counsel at NASA Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss. She is responsible for administratively assisting the Chief Counsel and legal staff. She acts as the gatekeeper on Ethics/Standards of Conduct matters and assist attorneys in the negotiation of new agreements. She also previously served as Freedom of Information Act officer and was detailed to NASA Headquarters to support the Launch Services Program and SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation). During this period, she participated in a six-month New Leader Program. She has received numerous honors, including STS-117 Space Flight Awareness Honoree and Legal Support Staff Person of the Year. Sims is married with one daughter, who is a student at Mississippi State University.