Michelle Haupt

I have loved flying on airplanes and thinking about what it would be like to go into space from the time I was a little girl. I remember my dad traveling for work and coming home to tell me about the airplane he flew on. He would point up in the sky when a plane would fly over and name the type of aircraft and the airline company. Anytime a movie came out about space, my parents would take my sister and me to the theater to see it.

At a young age, I absolutely loved math. So much so, that one summer my math teacher sent me home with problem solving worksheets to do for fun. I took them on our summer road trip to visit my grandparents. I had most of them completed by the time school started in the fall.

My dad worked for a major telephone company, helping design and implementing internal data network systems. My mom worked for a company that made office copy machines, and it was her job to go to the site to fix the copier. She loved working with her hands and fixing these machines. She had brothers and cousins who went to school to be engineers, so she would hint to me that maybe I should be an engineer too. I made up my mind in seventh grade that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. As I look back, I don’t think I really knew what being an aerospace engineer meant, but I was determined to reach my goal.

During high school I decided that once I earned an aerospace engineering degree, I wanted to get a job at NASA. All through high school, I took as many math and science courses as were offered. On one occasion, my school added a math class for another student and me so we could continue to prepare for college. During my senior year of high school, I attended an open house at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla where I met the aerospace engineering department chair, and it was all I could do to contain my excitement.

My freshman year of college, I met a senior whose dream of working for NASA was similar to mine. She took me to a meeting for a design team called Miners in Space. The team was looking for new members to help submit their proposal of a microgravity welder to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. I knew nothing about welding, but they hooked me when they said I might have the opportunity to fly on the “Weightless Wonder” zero gravity aircraft. With hard work and dedication, I found myself experiencing weightlessness on NASA’s C-9 zero gravity aircraft that summer.

The following year, I sent my resume to several NASA centers, including Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center and Dryden Flight Research Center, a center I had never heard of, renamed Armstrong Flight Research Center in 2014. During finals week of my sophomore year, I received a call from Armstrong’s structures branch chief asking if I would like to spend a semester in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Of course I said yes, but I had no idea how life changing that answer was going to be.

Up to that point, I was pursuing an emphasis in space technology, not aircraft. When I arrived at Armstrong, I was assigned to the F-15B Quiet Spike project that was about to start its envelope expansion flight test sequence. I found myself sitting beside my mentor in the mission control room during two to four flights per week and a tech briefing almost every other week. I quickly learned the process was to brief the center management of the risks involved in the next set of flights and how the risks were mitigated. I observed the lead operations engineer and told myself that I wanted to do what she did.

Near the end of that semester, I found myself talking to the operations engineering branch chief and asking if I could return to see the operations side of the center. It was during these two co-operative education rotations that I decided I loved working with aircraft and changed the emphasis of my college education.

After graduating and being hired full time at Armstrong, I became the lead operations engineer for the C-20A, similar to a Gulfstream III aircraft, flying almost 750 hours supporting Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) research. My role on the flights was to operate the Platform Precision Autopilot (PPA) from the cabin of the aircraft. The pilot would fly to a pre-planned line in the sky and release the aircraft to the PPA system, and I would ensure the aircraft stayed within a 10-meter tube the entire length of the line. This repeat-path flying was important to UAVSAR research. I made my first trip out of the country to image volcanoes in Central America while supporting the C-20A.

After earning a masters degree in mechanical engineering and having twin daughters, I was asked to become the lead operations engineer of the Armstrong support aircraft fleet. There are 10 aircraft ranging from F-15s and F-18s to B-200s, a T-34 and a G-II that I support. I have been working with my fellow operations engineers to audit all of the maintenance records for these 10 aircraft. It has been the best way to learn about so many aircraft in a short period of time. The process can become tedious, but I persevere, knowing that the work helps bring the pilots and crew home safely each day.

photo of Michelle Haupt

Biography

From the time she was a little girl, Michelle Haupt has loved flying on airplanes. As she grew, she wondered what it would be like to travel in space. She discovered that mathematics was her favorite school subject. These interests led Haupt’s decision in seventh grade to become an aerospace engineer. It was during high school that Haupt added the goal of working for NASA. While in her freshman year at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Haupt joined a student team who submitted a proposal to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. The proposal was accepted and Haupt flew aboard NASA’s C-9 microgravity aircraft and was hooked on NASA. The following year she submitted resumes for internships to several NASA centers. A call came from the smallest center she had applied to – Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in Southern California. Haupt’s education focused on space technology until her Dryden internship where her first aircraft project experience was with the F15B Quiet Spike. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she returned to Dryden to become the lead operation’s engineer for NASA’s C-20A aircraft, traveling on deployments for synthetic aperture radar studies in the United States and Central America. This training, along with completing her master’s degree, was preparation for her current position as lead operations engineer for the fleet of support aircraft at NASA Armstrong. She directs four operations engineers managing 10 aircraft. Haupt is a member of an audit team that ensures aircraft maintenance records are thorough and correctly logged in NASA’s Aircraft Management Information System. This team has received awards for dedication to safety.