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NASA’s Modern History Makers: Abigail Rodriguez

Abigail Rodriguez poses in front of the concentrator mirror in the Electric Propulsion and Power Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.
Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell

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Finding a job at NASA doesn’t always happen on the first try.

For Abigail Rodriguez, she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way of working for NASA and was resilient in finding a job where she could use her civil engineering degree. Rodriguez attended multiple job fairs and applied online until she found an opportunity that was the perfect fit.

She accepted a spring internship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and near the end of her time at Kennedy, she received a call from NASA’s Glenn Research Center offering her a summer internship in Cleveland.

“I went home for two weeks; then I was back on a plane again to come here for my summer internship,” Rodriguez said.

Home for Rodriguez is Añasco, Puerto Rico. Growing up in the public school system, she was involved with numerous extracurricular activities and always had her sights set on NASA.

“We grew up in the shuttle era, watching all the launches and landings,” Rodriguez said. “Building a space station was something as a kid you couldn’t comprehend, but it was so cool.”

Among her extracurriculars was an after-school program that promoted math and science among students grades 4 through 12.

“That’s where I got a lot of interest in going into STEM,” Rodriguez said. “We did so many interesting projects and learned the physics of everything. We were all creative minds, and it was something I really liked.”

She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management. After four other internships with NASA, she accepted a Pathways Intership in safety and mission assurance in 2013.

A decade later, she leads safety and mission assurance for the Fission Surface Power project, which aims to design a fission power system that would provide at least 40 kilowatts of power — enough to continuously run 30 households for 10 years – and demonstrate it on the Moon.

“The farther we go away from the Sun, the more we will need to rely on innovative energy sources like nuclear,” Rodriguez said. “I’m setting the path for future projects and, hopefully, making this a lot easier for the person who comes after me.”

In her role, Rodriguez ensures the project and its technical planning are consistent with NASA’s safety and mission assurance design processes, specifications, rules, and best practices. She supervises reliability assessments, environmental impact statements, and approval processes, as well as collaborates with outside agencies like the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation.

Exposure to exciting projects like this has kept Rodriguez in the field of safety. She’s had the opportunity to work on projects ranging from an International Space Station experiment to one focused on monitoring environmental conditions in Lake Erie.

“In safety, you touch so many different areas that NASA is involved in,” Rodriguez said. “It’s intimidating, but it makes me feel proud I’m here.”

NASA is in a Golden Era of aeronautics and space exploration. In partnership with commercial and private businesses, NASA is currently making history with significant missions such as Artemis, Quesst, and electrified aviation. The NASA’s Modern History Makers series highlights members of NASA Glenn’s workforce who make these remarkable missions possible.

Jacqueline Minerd

NASA’s Glenn Research Center