Kelly Lynch has wanted to be an astronaut since discovering constellations at the age of five. When considering which university to attend, she knew mechanical engineering served as the most frequent route to a career in aerospace. But she loved chemistry and decided to see if chemical engineering could get her in the door at NASA.
Six NASA co-op rotations and internships later, Kelly says chemical engineers are crucial to aerospace research. “There actually aren’t enough chemical engineers at NASA.”
At the 2019 College of Engineering Awards Banquet sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, Kelly received the Lou Takacs Engineering Co-op Award, given annually to the co-op of the year. Because commitment to the co-op program means graduating in five years instead of four, Kelly wasn’t sure she should accept NASA’s offer to co-op midway through her academic career.
“I remember calling my parents and explaining, ‘If I take it, I will have to graduate an entire year later, but I’ll most likely have a job at NASA at the end of it.’ They said, ‘No question. Do it.’”
From Glasgow, Kentucky. Senior majoring in chemical engineering; slated to graduate in May 2020.
NASA missions (co-ops and internships)
Five at NASA Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama; one at NASA Johnson in Houston, Texas.
Developing a hybrid propellant for the Mars Ascent Vehicle. “Knowing I’m working on Mars-related projects motivates my work every day. It makes me excited about what I’m doing, even if it’s cleaning pots for the next batch of rocket fuel.”
Working on the life-support systems for the Orion capsule that will take astronauts to Mars. “The life-support systems team had a high concentration of chemical engineers because the systems themselves are chemical engineering processes.”
Handling International Space Station hardware. “I planned and completed surveillance testing, which is taking a piece of hardware out of storage once a year to make sure it can still be used. One piece I performed testing on is a backup for the one on the International Space Station right now.”
On Becoming an Astronaut
“All of the astronauts are at NASA Johnson in Houston. Whenever they came to speak to our group, I would hang around afterward and ask, ‘Tell me how to become an astronaut!’ But they said there is no set path."
“The Orion capsule is extremely small, yet an astronaut crew going to Mars will have to live together inside it for the 6 to 12 months it will take to get there. So you need more than just smarts to be an astronaut. You have to be someone other people will want to be around for the duration of the trip! I believe I am that kind of person.”