Perry native speaks with students about career with NASA

Cris Ritchie — Editor

August 23, 2013

VIPER –You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Just ask Dr. Tracie Prater, a Perry County native and aerospace engineer who is set to begin her career with NASA next month.

Dr. Prater returned to Eastern Kentucky this week where she spoke to a group of students at Viper Elementary about her forthcoming career at NASA, which will begin on Sept. 9 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Al.

“It’s something that I always dreamed of ever since I was a little kid,” Prater said about working for world’s foremost space agency.

Growing up on Sixteen Mile in Perry County, Prater attended the former Lost Creek Elementary and went on to graduate from Perry County Central High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 2006, and just last year earned her Ph. D. in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt.

She began her career after college at United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Ga., a company providing spacecraft launch services to the United States government. With NASA, she will be working with the Materials Engineering Branch and dealing with material selection for various NASA projects along with data analysis.

While at Viper on Friday, Prater discussed not only her career, but also the types of projects on which NASA works, the research the agency does, and what the future may hold for space exploration. She said she hopes the students will take away the possibilities that can be open to them once they begin thinking about their own career paths.

“I hope they just get excited about science technology, engineering, and math, and the careers that are available,” she said. “I think that career sector is going to experience unprecedented growth in the next 20 years.”

Prater said she also hopes these students will not allow barriers such as geography to prevent them from achieving their own dreams in life. With hard work and determination, she said, achieving those goals can become a reality.

“I think it’s unfortunate that sometimes a lot of what you’re able to do in this country is determined by your zip code, so I want to kind of combat that idea, you know, it is possible,” she said.

According to a recent release from Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering, Prater was recently selected to participate in the 2013 Emerging Space Leaders Grant Program in China this coming October. She is one of 12 selected to participate, and the only participant born in the United States.