From Meridian to the Moon: Mississippi native reflects on work with NASA

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Life’s journeys are not always a clear, straight path.

“Sometimes life surprises us on our trajectories, and I will say that it has done that for me,” said Tracy Johnson, Meridian native and MCC alumna serving as deputy manager of program planning and control at NASA.

Johnson, who now lives in Huntsville and works at the Marshall Space Center, came to the College to speak to campus members and community residents, sharing her life’s experiences, talking about NASA’s Artemis program and encouraging students to explore career potentials in her talk, “From Meridian to the Moon.”

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After graduating from Meridian High School and taking some MCC classes, Johnson earned her chemical engineering degree from the University of Alabama. She and began working at a paper mill in Choctaw County, Alabama. Another job opportunity led her to a paper mill in north Alabama. Later, she landed a job at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, working on the Space Shuttle Program.

“Life takes you on paths that you didn’t see coming,” she said. “I’m an engineer by trade; I’ve worked on the Space Launch System (SLS),” she said. “I had a person I admire very much approach me and say, ‘You know what? I think I’d like for you to work for me. And I said, are you sure about that? What you’re asking me to do in your office and job is not my expertise; I have never done this at all,”’ she said of the conversation.

“And I have loved every minute of it for the last five years,” Johnson said of her current position as deputy manager.

In November, Artemis One was the first uncrewed flight test by the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft around the moon. “It did have a crew capsule on top, but there was no crew flying because it was a test demonstration. It has taken some 10 years to complete the development and launch it,” she said.

Watching a decade of work coming to fruition was memorable, she said. “It was a spectacular flight.”

Subsequent Artemis missions will aim at having humans on the moon and accomplishing scientific studies. “Eventually, our goal is to go to Mars,” she added.