were this moment reduced back to a pallid float, it would not avail in the long run,
I'm interested in behind-the-scenes people -- people that shape or make our experiences often without us knowing they're doing so. The names of NASA astronauts might be the ones who make the headlines, but I want to learn who the unseen people are that make that person's trip to space possible. (Check out Verse 41 and Joel and Andrew Hart, the brothers who were behind the fireworks show.)
There are all these different, highly specialized pieces of a puzzle involved in sending a ship and a person into space. You can't be Neil Armstrong, Mae Jemison or Alan Shepard without all the puzzle pieces coming together -- or something goes terribly awry, or it doesn't go at all. The women who read Verse 45 for us, Vicky Garcia and Tawnya Laughinghouse, each own one of those specific puzzle pieces. They help make the impossible possible.
Vicky works as a Systems Engineer on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), the world's most powerful rocket. It's her job to make sure all of the parts of the whole SLS system are interacting as they should and to catch any future problems. She explains that it's very much a team effort and a balancing act. "There is a team responsible for structures, a team responsible for navigation, a team responsible for propulsion and so on," Vicky explains. "The structures team wants to make the launch vehicle as strong as possible, but that would make the vehicle too heavy. The propulsion team wants to use as much fuel as possible, but again that would make the vehicle too heavy. The navigation team wants the vehicle as light as possible so it's easier to launch and control where it needs to go. It's my job to find a good balance among all the teams. How do we decide how heavy it needs to be? How do we decide that it's 'good enough.'"
Tawnya spent the majority of her career working as a materials engineer. But in January 2017, she transitioned to program management. As Deputy Program Manager for Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM), she helps NASA's projects further develop the technologies to achieve its goals of determining what will be needed for future missions and exploration of deep space. This work results in either a ground demonstration test (in a space-like environment) or an actual launch into space for full-scale flight demonstration. Her job makes it possible to get these cutting-edge technologies ready for future NASA missions in a safe, timely, and cost-effective manner, allowing their use for space exploration as soon as possible.
As they read the lines from the stanza, I noticed I really enjoyed the texture of each of their voices. Vicky's deep and rich, Tawnya's like crystal. Also, both of these women did things during their shoots that impressed upon me something I hope to hold on to.
Tawnya joked about the pride she has in her pooch. It's ideal that she felt uninhibited about that moment and allowing it to be in the edit. If you break that bit down, think it through, you can understand, even from just those few seconds, a lot about who Tawnya is, and, something of what it is to be a woman.
Vicky too was generous and easy going. Most of our time with her was spent goofing around despite the complexities of what she was mapping out on the white board. (Fun fact: Vicky says that the equation on the board was for predicting slosh behavior of liquids. This prediction is necessary because the fuel of the launch vehicle is so heavy that sloshing liquids can affect the trajectory and weaken the structural integrity of the fuel tanks.)
Because Vicky's deaf, Ginnard and I would need to remember to make sure we were facing her while giving any direction so she could read our lips. (Being in our own heads so much we'd often forget and speak to her with our heads or backs turned.) If we were standing behind our cameras and needed her attention while she wasn't facing us, Vicky suggested: "Crumple up paper and throw it at me." Neither Ginnard nor I is one to turn down a suggestion for making a shoot easier, or more playful, so we were delighted and took advantage of that offer, a bunch. Vicky literally let herself be the target of some playfulness to help Ginnard and I compensate for our needs.
As I've found with all the folks who've read for this project, there's much to learn from observing what seem to be the little things caught on film. Clearly we've met two bad-ass women who help make things fly into space and can deliver lines of poetry gorgeously. More powerful than that though, to me, was discovering that we've also met two women who own pieces of another puzzle, ones that reveal a notion for another way of being -- people who can derive and provide power and strength from vulnerability.
By Jennifer Crandall, as told to writer Liz Hildreth