Maynette Smith

My Dad was an engineer and the proud parent of two girls. Early on, he instilled the belief in each of his daughters that we could aspire to be whatever we wanted to be. He loved math and science and was very active in our schooling, particularly in those areas. My Dad and I were both science fiction fans and he let me stay up late to watch the original Star Trek series. Star Trek spurred my interest in space. While a little too young to remember watching John F. Kennedy talk about the United States sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to the Earth, the memory of the crew of Apollo 8 reading from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve still resonates with me. At 8 years of age, I sat with my Dad watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. From that point on, I dreamed of working for NASA.

As I grew up, my Dad took me along on his engineering jobs as he travelled around the state. In school, I discovered a love of and aptitude for science and math. By junior year in high school, I had decided that I wanted to pursue a career in engineering. I entered Vanderbilt University’s Engineering School in 1979, with a major in Electrical Engineering with a focus in Biomedical Engineering. During my senior year, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center came to Vanderbilt to interview for jobs at the Center. I was hired, and on June 13, 1983, I became a NASA Employee at the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

My first week at Kennedy Space Center was especially memorable. On June 18, STS-7 launched; on board was Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut. My first job was working Spacelab, where I was immediately given responsibilities as a test engineer for payloads that would be flying on the Space Shuttle. My first two experiments that I was responsible for testing were the Solar Array Experiment (SAE) and Dynamic Augmentation Experiment (DAE), which flew on STS-14 (STS-41D). Judy Resnik was the Mission Specialist responsible for the experiments. She treated me like I had been working at NASA for ages. I went on one trip to California where engineers were testing the Solar Array and some journalists who were present for the test mistook me for Judy Resnik. I politely informed them I was not her, but it was extremely humbling to be mistaken for an astronaut.

I was the test engineer for several other experiments that flew on the Space Shuttle before I moved into Project Engineering, where my responsibilities included working across multiple engineering disciplines. I worked on the Tethered Satellite System -1 (TSS-1) payload, which was a joint effort with the Italian Space Agency and multiple NASA Centers. It was exciting and challenging to work with such a diverse team — an experience I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else than at NASA.

In 1991, I joined the ranks of supervision and management, which was a huge transition from working technical issues to working with people to help them achieve their goals. In 1996, I started working International Space Station (ISS) Utilization, and helped set up the infrastructure to process ISS experiments at KSC and at the shuttle landing sites. In 2003, I joined Kennedy Space Center Director’s Staff as Strategic Planning Manager. In this role, I gained a whole new perspective of KSC and the Agency as a whole. I returned to my ISS roots in 2006 and helped with the procurement of the Institutional Services Contract to provide all the institutional services at KSC – no small proposition since KSC is the size of a city. In 2008, I moved to the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate where I have served in multiple supervisory and lead positions supporting space flight programs, including ISS, Orion, and Commercial Crew.

Throughout my career at NASA, I have had the opportunity to work with individuals who are passionate about their work, to personally contribute toward projects that are of benefit to humankind, and to continually push the boundaries of my knowledge. It has been an experience that has exceeded my childhood dream.

photo of Maynette Smith


Maynette E. Smith is Lead of Independent Assessment in the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She leads a team responsible for conducting independent reviews and assessments of technical and mission risks associated with Space Flight Programs located at Kennedy Space Center, including: Space Station, Commercial Crew, Ground Systems Development and Operations, and the KSC Institutional Programs. Ms. Smith received her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in 1983, and a Master of Science in Computer Engineering from the University of Central Florida in 1995. Ms. Smith began her career with NASA at KSC in 1983 as a systems engineer working experiment integration for Spacelab and Shuttle partial payload experiments. In 1988, she was promoted to experiment project engineer, responsible for integrating multiple engineering disciplines for Shuttle experiment processing. Ms. Smith entered management in 1991. From 1991 to 1996, she was chief of the Partial Payload Checkout System Branch. In 1996, she began working Space Station Utilization, serving as the Chief of the Payload Integration Division, with responsibility for launch site planning of station experiments and processing of the final Spacelab and shuttle partial payloads missions. As part of KSC’s reorganization in 2000, Smith became Chief of the Utilization Division in the International Space Station Payloads Processing Directorate. Under her tenure, the first seven payload racks and a number of smaller payloads were successfully processed and launched to the station. From 2003 to January 2006, Ms. Smith worked on the Center Director’s staff as the Strategic Planning Manager. In January 2006, she returned to the International Space Station Payloads Processing Directorate as the Deputy for Program Management. Ms. Smith transferred to the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate in 2008, where she has held multiple leadership positions with responsibility for the planning and execution of safety and mission assurance activities at KSC for the International Space Station Program, Shuttle Transition and Retirement Project, and Orion Production Operations. Ms. Smith assumed her current position as Lead of Independent Assessment in January 2014. Ms. Smith has been awarded the Kennedy Space Center Director’s Award, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, and numerous performance awards.