A Conversation with Tracy Drain:
Highlighting Diversity at NASA

Tracy Drain

Flight Systems Engineer at JPL in Pasadena, CA.

Tracy was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where she graduated from Waggener High School in 1993. She attended the University of Kentucky to pursue a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. While there, she interned at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. After completing her degree in 1998, she went on to the Georgia Institute of Technology and received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2000.

In the summer of 2000 Tracy began working at JPL and has since been involved with a variety of deep space missions. She joined the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) development team in May of 2001. In the four years prior to MRO’s launch, she was involved in tasks such as the development of project system requirements and mission system fault trees, and running simulations of faulted mission scenarios. After the August 2005 launch, Tracy led the operations team in planning for the two-month checkout period just before the science phase and eventually became Lead Systems Engineer on the flight engineering tTeam. MRO is still orbiting Mars and returning valuable science data about the red planet; it also serves as a communications relay for the rovers currently exploring Mars.

Tracy left MRO in early 2007 to join the Kepler project, which was preparing for a March 2009 launch and a mission of hunting for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars in our Milky Way galaxy. As Mission Readiness Lead on the project systems engineering team, Tracy ensured that the plans for testing and executing the activities associated with each of the mission phases were completed. She worked closely with multiple teams to verify that mission timelines and operations procedures were fleshed out in order to identify and mitigate risks and to review test procedures and results. For the launch and checkout period, her duties included assessing anomalies and leading the Anomaly Review Board in directing the operations team through the execution of contingency procedures.

Following Kepler’s two-month post-launch checkout period, Tracy joined the Juno project on the project systems and flight systems engineering teams to focus on fault protection oversight. Before Juno’s August 2011 launch, her work included tasks related to requirements verification and system level testing. After the launch, Tracy’s responsibilities included helping the team to prepare for major flight activities and to resolve problems that cropped up along the way. During the Cruise Phase, she supported the two deep space maneuvers in August/September 2012 and an Earth flyby in October 2013. Now that Juno successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016, the operations team is hard at work ensuring the scientists can collect the data they need to learn more about Jupiter’s atmospheric composition, internal structure and magnetic field (among other things!). That knowledge will help scientists understand details about the early history of Jupiter and our entire solar system.

From February 2013 through the end of 2015, Tracy took on an additional role as Technical Group Supervisor for the flight system systems engineering group. In parallel with her continued Juno duties during that time, she provided guidance and oversight to the other engineers in the group who supported a variety of JPL missions. She returned to Juno full time at the end of 2015, in preparation for Juno’s Jupiter orbit insertion and science phase.