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Young Professional Brief: Stacey Bagg

Stacey Bagg, aerospace engineer at Glenn Research Center. Photo Credit: NASA

July 20, 2011 Vol. 4, Issue 5


Stacey Bagg had her sights set on the slopes of Colorado when an opportunity to work at NASA changed her plans.

Stacey Bagg, aerospace engineer at Glenn Research Center.

Stacey Bagg, aerospace engineer at Glenn Research Center.
Photo Credit: NASA

In the months leading up to her graduation from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Stacey Bagg, aerospace engineer at Glenn Research Center, handed out a few resumes to a handful of friends to circulate. She wasn’t expecting to settle into a full-time job right away. “I was planning on being a ski bum,” she joked.

She happened to hand a resume to a friend who passed it to the wife of a NASA contractor. “I got a call out of the blue the summer after I graduated from a manager up at Glenn Research Center,” she said. The phone interview led to an onsite interview, which led to a job offer. She accepted. “NASA and Ohio were both a fluke,” she said.

The Cutting Edge

Bagg started out as a test engineer at the Creek Road Cryogenic Facility. She did testing on liquid oxygen and nitrogen for liquid acquisition in propulsion systems. “In space you don’t know where your fuel is,” explained Bagg. “You can’t always rely on it being at the bottom of the tank because you don’t have gravity to put it there. Liquid acquisition is basically finding the liquid and making sure that only liquid goes into your engine when you turn it on.”

She also participated in mass gauging tests. “Again,” explained Bagg, “in space, if you don’t know where your liquid is, how do you tell how much you have?”

Stacey Bagg (front and center) and the 501st at Yuri's Night 2010.

Stacey Bagg (front and center) and the 501st at Yuri’s Night 2010.
Photo Credit: Cleveland Yuri’s Night

She worked for a contractor at the cryogenic facility for about a year before she had the opportunity to take a civil servant position. She’s currently working on the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG). The engine is an electric power generator that runs on naturally decaying radioisotope fuel. The ASRG uses a quarter of the Pu-238 required for the older generation of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) that have flown on Viking, Cassini, Voyager, and other nuclear-powered missions. Like the RTG, the ASRG is ideal for long-duration missions in deep space – “anywhere where it’s not going to be practical to use another power source like batteries or solar cells,” Bagg said. “It’s revolutionary technology compared to the current way of doing nuclear power.”

Bagg’s initial interest in aerospace was in the emerging commercial sector. “I didn’t think I was going to work for NASA because of all the bureaucracy, but here I am,” she said. While the bureaucracy is present, it’s the work that keeps her around. Private industry is focused on the quickest, cheapest answer to solve current problems in the field, she explained. NASA is looking at the long-term, “out-there” ideas. “We’re good at the cutting-edge stuff. The people in industry just don’t have the time or the money to spend on these technologies,” said Bagg. “We do the stuff that no one else can do. My current project is one of those. No one else can do this.”

Bagg’s excitement about her work is also fueled by what comes next. “We’re trying to get new technologies into the field,” she said. While she appreciates the tried and true technologies of the past, she looks forward to pushing the limits of today’s capabilities with new, innovative products to move into the next era of exploration.

Starting out at Glenn

“When I moved halfway across the country, I knew absolutely no one in Ohio,” said Bagg. However, during her onsite interview, she did have the opportunity to connect with the Glenn Developing Professionals Club (DPC), a group that connects young professionals at Glenn through community service, professional development, and social networking. Similar to a college visit, a DPC representative showed Bagg around the center, and she had the chance to hang out with the group at one of their events.

“I met people very quickly through the club. I really liked what it did for me as a starting employee. When you get into your first job, you don’t really have a lot of younger engineers around you.” With the agency’s average age hovering around 47, it’s sometimes challenging to connect with coworkers who might have spouses, kids, or other commitments. “It’s hard to develop that group up front when you haven’t grown up here, and you don’t know anyone when you’re coming in.”

Bagg also started the Cleveland Yuri’s Night – an annual, global celebration named for the first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Bagg attended Yuri’s Night for three years in college and was surprised when she learned that there wasn’t an event in Cleveland. “My first year at NASA, I started asking around about it. I figured, ‘It’s a NASA center, everybody should be way into this.’” Since then she has hosted three Yuri’s Night parties in Cleveland, all of which drew crowds of 300 people.

Developing the Next Generation

“NASA has a lot of great programs right now, but we need more,” said Bagg. “It’s a shame to have people that really crave development opportunities be excluded from them.” While there are development options, most are highly competitive and limited to a small number of slots. “What do you do with the rest of the people?” she asked.

In addition to leadership development and technical skills, policy and program/project management are also important to Bagg. She wants to understand the rationale behind key programmatic decisions, and she’s concerned that valuable knowledge may be already walking out the door before next generation has exposure to it. “It’s knowledge. Not just getting professional skills, but professional knowledge. That’s what I want to see passed down.”

Stacey Bagg working on the Advanced Stirling Convertor (ASC) hardware.

Stacey Bagg working on the Advanced Stirling Convertor (ASC) hardware.
Photo Credit:NASA/ Glenn Research Center

She has had some extraordinary opportunities through the DPC, which she now chairs. Ray Lugo, who was deputy center director at Glenn when Bagg first joined, used to attend DPC book club meetings. “He would choose books for us that were along the lines of professional development such as influence or leadership,” she explained. “When we discussed these topics with him, we would also discuss applications to the center or our own development, which was very cool.”

DPC “work-area discussions,” which resembled brown-bag lunches, gave Bagg an opportunity to see what else was going on around the center. “I could see across the lab what was going on in other areas, which is great because a lot of the groups don’t interface intentionally.”

Making the Connection

In addition to the DPC, Bagg is a member of NASA Forward. Prior to NASA Forward, her exposure to other young professionals across the agency was limited. “Forward is the first time that we’ve really had interaction between the very new professionals with other centers. Usually the first time you get that interaction is through NASA FIRST.”

While NASA Forward is not yet as robust as programs like FIRST, it is a place for networking that has been challenging to do in the past. “It’s hard to communicate between different groups,” she said. “You just typically don’t do it because you don’t know a lot of people.”

She hopes that opportunities to interact, network, and connect with others across the agency will increase. Having these opportunities not only helps integrate the next generation of NASA, but also helps Bagg tap the expertise of her colleagues. Not too long ago, if she had a question about a particular piece of unfamiliar software, she wouldn’t know where to find an answer. Now, with a growing network across the agency, she’s able to reach out and ask someone, “Have you done this before?”

Learn more about the Glenn Research Center Developing Professionals Club.

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