Hartselle native's job is out of this world
Special to the Enquirer
As a little boy, Jon Brett Holladay loved to listen to his grandfather talk about his work at NASA.
Today, Holladay not only shares those stories with others, but also a few of his own.
Both men helped build NASA facilities – his grandfather as a carpenter and Holladay as an engineer. In the 1960s and 1970s, Holladay's grandfather, Bedford Berryman, helped build research facilities and offices at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Holladay, engineering project manager in Marshall's pressurized carriers group, supports the International Space Station – the world's foremost orbiting research laboratory being built by 16 nations.
Holladay is responsible for managing the engineering activities for the station's three multi-purpose logistics modules – the "moving vans" inside the Space Shuttle's cargo bay that carry supplies to and from the Space Station. The modules, built as a joint venture between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, get their distinct names from great engineers in Italian history: painters Leonardo and Rafaello, and sculptor Donnatello.
"These modules are incredibly complex hardware due to their unique function, operational modes and number of interfaces," Holladay said. "Working with our Italian partners has been an amazing experience. They take great pride in demonstrating their technical excellence within the field of engineering, a reflection on their cultural heritage."
Growing up in Hartselle, Holladay never dreamed he'd one day be traveling to Europe to oversee these pieces of hardware built by the Italian and European Space Agencies for NASA. But during the construction of these modules, it became a pretty routine trip for Holladay to Europe from Hartselle – where he lives with his wife, Konnye, and daughter, Julia. His parents Roy and Judy Richards, who watched their son excel academically at Hartselle High School, still live in the small north Alabama city, where they have also been able to watch him help the space program excel, too.
Holladay played a role in the missions to launch the Multi Purpose Logistic Modules into space. As the engineering manager on five of those missions, he monitored and evaluated the hardware performance from Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston to make sure the "moving vans" delivered their cargo safely.
"After going through years of technical designs, reviews and construction, it is a rewarding experience to see a module fly inside the Space Shuttle," Holladay said. "It amazes me that you learn something new – even when it's operating on orbit."
Holladay has learned something new on every project he's worked since joining NASA in 1987 as a cooperative education student. In 1988, Holladay graduated from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering; and earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from that institution in 1995.
When he started at the Marshall Center in 1987, Holladay's first assignment was to work on the Hubble Space Telescope – the first major infrared-optical-ultraviolet telescope to be placed in Earth orbit. Holladay was on the orbital verification team that made sure that all the telescope's thermal parts worked as planned after launch.
His expertise led to his next assignment in 1993, redesigning the architecture of the external active thermal control system on the Space Station. That team made major modifications, leading to today's design of the Space Station.
And that's what he loves about being at NASA – he's always learning and challenged, which may explain his latest accomplishment.
Holladay has just completed the final level in a Systems Engineering Development Program designed to enhance system engineering skills. Completing the program, Holladay is now a senior systems engineer qualified for advancement to the next level of management. He is the first person in Marshall's Flight Projects Directorate to go through the certification process that will soon be mandatory for all Marshall systems engineers.
"His completion of this program shows good initiative on Jon's part and that he has planned well in his career development," said Robert Goss, chief engineer for the Flight Projects Directorate. "It can only lead to a bright future and good things for our programs that he is involved in."
Holladay plans to use this accomplishment to decide where to focus on the future, which he knows will be best spent ironing out the challenges of building the newest flight hardware.