Mission Control’s go-to gal

Heather McDonald stands next to person in spacesuit next to a pool.
Heather McDonald with an astronaut at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a pool used for spacewalk training. Credit: Chris Hansen

Aerospace engineering and mechanics (’92) alum Heather McDonald has a simple job objective: making sure that every piece of hardware and software for the International Space Station meets NASA requirements and “everything works together as an integrated system.”

As chief engineer for the ISS, she works across engineering disciplines to guarantee Mission Control never hears “Houston, we have a problem” from the orbiter.

“If something breaks on the ISS, Mission Control engages my team to help solve the problems,” McDonald says. “Our job is also to assess activities and hardware in advance to ensure they don’t break.”

Her purview covers all space station engineering operations, plus the fleet of vehicles that travel to and from it. She coordinates with the Russian, Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies, and private companies like Space X.

McDonald came by her interest in aerospace by growing up near the Air National Guard base in Duluth, which regularly sent F-4 and F-16 fighter planes screaming overhead. As an undergrad in the College of Science and Engineering, she was in a program that allowed her to alternate semesters of academic work with full time employment and spent four quarters at the Johnson Space Center.

“Growing up, I enjoyed looking at the night sky,” she says. “Never did I imagine the dreams born at the University of Minnesota would connect me so closely to the stars.”

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 12:06
Mission Control’s go-to gal
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities