Chana Johnson

I am one of three children born in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, to loving parents who were educators. Always intrigued by science and math and how things worked, I spent lots of time outside with my dad trying as his helper, curious about what he was doing under the hood of the car or doing yard work. I received lots of support from my community, my church and my extended family.

Growing up, I remember we would watch the Apollo launches as a family, every time waiting for the astronaut to say something after those “black-out” periods of time when there was no communication. It was exciting to sit and wait!

As a mechanical engineer at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), I was selected as Mechanical Engineer of the Year by the dean, which was a complete surprise. I just knew it had to be someone other than me, since there were so many other students who I thought would have been chosen. I was excited and honored, as were my parents, who were always encouraging and supportive throughout my academic life and my career. They encouraged me to stay balanced by doing things other than studying, like Girl Scouting (as a scout and leader), participating in my home church, attending various sporting events and joining the various engineering groups on campus.

I started my career in the oil fields of Hobbs, New Mexico, as a summer intern. It was hot and hard work, but interesting none the less. My next step along the journey was as a design engineer with an oil company in the small town of Sweeny, Texas. There, I worked alongside some really smart and courageous people, climbing several stories off the ground on the outside of a “Cat-cracker” to obtain measurements for modifications to various pipelines associated with the processing of petroleum into various products.

Later, I decided it was time to be a little closer to home and try another industry, so I resigned my job in Texas and headed to Alabama. I had never been to Huntsville, but my brother had attended the University of Alabama in Huntsville and said it would be a good place for me, so I applied and was hired at what was then the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. There, I worked as an engineering analyst for five years, supporting Marshall Space Flight Center. I was responsible for developing and documenting logistics for the Hubble Space Telescope, used Nastran software to design science experiment “glove boxes” and space shuttle components, and performed stress analysis using the results along with calculations that I had learned in school. This was the first time I had worked with other women engineers in good numbers. It was an exciting time, because what I was working on was eventually going to fly in space!

My career paused briefly when the Marshall Center contract I supported was not renewed. Because of my experience, I was fortunate to go to work for Fairchild Missiles and Space Co. as a lead analyst after being laid off for only a few months. During that time I had applied to work at Marshall but had not heard anything, so I was pleasantly surprised when I later received a call for a design job at the center. I interviewed and was selected for the position, where for nearly six years I designed special test equipment in support of numerous Marshall projects. It was a great job! Working with other engineers and technicians who were the best only helped make me better.

When the center wanted each of its organizations to provide auditors in support of Marshall’s effort to become International Organization for Standardization or ISO certified, I volunteered to be trained and began to work with the program on an as-needed basis, about once or twice a year. Eventually, the center decided to build a team of full-time auditors and I was offered the chance to work with them on a detail for a year. The year turned into 18 months. In less than three months after I returned to my design duties I received a request to return to the team permanently. After much thought and prayer I accepted and remained with the team for several years. Auditing not only the Marshall personnel but the companies that provide products to the center can be challenging, but knowing the importance of doing this work has kept me focused on the benefits and the bigger picture — NASA’s success.

For about two years I left the team to work in procurement quality, which is also important to mission success for NASA and Marshall. When the audit manager job came open, I applied and was selected. After a little over a year’s time in the post, I have come to realize that God’s grace is sufficient and that keeping the big picture in view is of the utmost importance. I am so glad to play a part in development of the Space Launch System, the next vehicle that NASA will fly safely to greater heights!

My faith in God is what has brought me to and through many tough situations and that same faith is what is going to see me all the way, wherever life may lead. The balance among faith, family, work, friends and fun have been key for my success.

photo of Chana Johnson


Chana Johnson grew up in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and is a daughter of educators. So it probably wasn’t a surprise when Chana’s affinity for math and science combined with her curiosity about how things work to lead her to an engineering degree and, eventually, a career at NASA. She completed her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Tuskegee University. After graduation, Chana worked in private industry for 11 years. She joined NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1991 as a design engineer supporting the special test equipment branch. She worked on several programs and projects designing test support equipment, fixtures and structures, including the Space Shuttle Program, the space shuttle shipping pallet, Marshall Center test stands and vacuum chambers, optics development tools and the Lightweight External Tank testing shroud. In 2001, she was detailed to the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate as a quality engineer supporting the International Space Station Environmental Control and Life Support System project. She was a lead auditor and also facilitator for the NASA Engineering Quality Audit process for the space shuttle program elements. In 2011, Chana became a Safety and Mission Assurance Representative for the Marshall Engineering Technicians and Trade Support Services contract, and in 2013, she became the Marshall Center’s audit manager. She has received numerous awards during her career, including a Silver Snoopy in 2014 and a NASA Director’s Commendation Honor Award in 2012. Chana is very involved with family and is active in her church. Chana says it brings her joy to help the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors, educators, and caregivers showing a little love and encouragement to them so that they can be all that they can be.