N. Jan Davis
Illuminating Space as Astronaut & NASA Observatory Expert
Inducted in 2001
Having traveled on three shuttle missions, spending nearly 700 hours in space, Dr. N. Jan Davis does not plan to fly again as an astronaut. But the reputation of an Alabama engineering education continues flying high, boosted by the attention that Dr. Davis’s work draws. Directly and indirectly, her achievements have drawn high-technology companies to the state of Alabama, improving its citizens’ quality of life.
Dr. Davis is director of the Flight Projects Directorate at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, which she calls her hometown. The directorate, one of four at Marshall, oversees development of the International Space Station’s connecting nodes 2 and 3; the multipurpose logistics modules; commercial EXPRESS racks; environmental and life-support systems; and the Payload Operations Integration Center.
A 1971 Huntsville High School graduate, Dr. Davis earned a B.S. degree in applied biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the B.S.M.E. from Auburn University. After graduating from Auburn University, she worked for two years in the Exploration and Production research facilities at Texaco. In this capacity, she made major contributions in the recovery of oil by using steam flooding.
Hired by the space administration as an aerospace engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1979, perhaps her most significant accomplishments there were the structural analyses and verification of NASA’s two great space observatories. The University of Alabama in Huntsville awarded her master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering. Her Ph.D. research addressed a serious problem facing NASA with the long-term storage of composite pressure vessels.
Beginning in 1985, Dr. Davis served as a team leader in development of both the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra Telescope (or AXAF). She can clearly claim her share of credit for the now fully operational observatories that daily challenge scientists with new
discoveries. Chandra is designed to witness the most violent cosmic phenomena (for example, the first x-ray flare ever recorded from a brown dwarf, or failed star). In addition to her work on the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra, Dr. Davis also served as lead engineer redesigning the external tank attach ring for the shuttles’ solid rocket boosters.
Dr. Davis’s experience at NASA was key to her selection by NASA for its Astronaut Corps, which brought her to the Johnson Space Center in 1987. In 1992, on space shuttle flight STS-47, Dr. Davis operated Spacelab and its subsystems. In 1994, on flight STS-60, she maneuvered the Wake Shield Facility and conducted thin-film-crystal experiments. (This shuttle mission was the first to include a Russian cosmonaut in the crew.) Finally, on flight STS-85, in 1997, Dr. Davis was payload commander, deploying and retrieving the CRISTA-SPAS payload and operating a robotic arm developed by the Japanese.
Prior to her own space flights, Dr. Davis served as a CAPCOM in Mission Control, communicating with shuttle crews on seven missions. She has also completed an assignment at NASA’s Washington headquarters as director of the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, Independent Assurance Office.
She is a Registered Professional Engineer and owns one patent. She holds NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, and three Space Flight Medals, as well as the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Director’s Commendation. A winner of the Alpha Xi Delta Woman of Distinction Award, she was recently named to the UAH Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy. In addition, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers named her an ASME Fellow, its highest distinction.