Meet: Angel Plaza
Payload Project Engineering Manager
Johnson Space Center
Who I am and what I do:
I am a Payload Project Engineering Manager for NASA, at the Johnson
Space Center. I worked on a PBS documentary called "Working and Living
in Space." I am a happy person who looks for fun in all I do. I believe
you will live longer with a smile on your face.
I design medical equipment and systems that will work for doctors in
hospitals and space. I oversee the development of all the hardware for
certain life science experiments for the mission. For us, payload consists
of a set of experiments. My team develops the hardware and experiments
for use in space.
We work very closely with the investigators/scientists and doctors to
do medical science in space. We build, test and go to Cape Canaveral to
final test the hardware to be integrated in the shuttle. I worked with
the Japanese (Mitsubishi was building equipment for the Japanese Space
Agency) on STS-47 designing and building experiment systems. We became
good friends working together over the length of the project. It was one
of the best times I've had out here at NASA.
For one of my past projects, STS-78, I was able to go to Switzerland.
What a beautiful country! I've also worked with the Italians, the Spaniards
and the French. There is nothing like the level of cooperation and friendship
I have experienced meeting so many different people. This job is so international.
Likes/Dislikes about career
I like most aspects of my job - designing and putting things together
with my hands, building and testing them. I like seeing our work fly and
work properly, obtaining the information we wanted to obtain. The thing
I like least is that the politics involved causes some great science experiments
not to be done. There are many good projects that don't survive. The hardest
times were after the Challenger exploded. We kept up with our projects,
but wondered if we'd ever fly again, or even have a job in the near future.
Preparation for Career
I always wanted to be an engineer until high school when I decided I
wanted to be a doctor. I compromised and merged the two. I am a biomedical
engineer, which means I do engineering that deals with medical equipment
and human engineering issues.
I got my Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Texas
A&M. I had to work to help put myself through college. I worked at the
Texas A&M library about 20-30 hours per week for the three and a half
years I was there. When I graduated I wanted to go to Florida and work
for NASA, as Florida is closer to home.
I heard Johnson Space Center was hiring, so I applied. It was a dream
come true when I was hired in May of 1985. I started with small projects,
designing hardware. My first project flew on STS-26, the first mission
after the Challenger exploded. It was so exciting to finally see a project
You must study hard, especially in math and science. Never lose sight
of your dreams. It may be tough, but the tough one is the one that always
My family influenced me immensely, especially in the area of education.
I was raised to realize how important education is. My dad felt education
was the first and most important thing. Though growing up we really had
minimal luxuries around the house, we did go to private school. Education
is what money went for in our home. My grandfather raised 11 kids selling
bread and cheese, but my dad knew how hard that was. My uncle is a professor
at the University of Puerto Rico, and attended Texas A&M. Between them
all, I knew I would go to college some day. I really looked up to my dad
and my uncle. While I was at Texas A&M, I became very interested in the
I was born and grew up
in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on the south coast. I lived there until I was 19,
then I came to the States to go to Texas A & M. As a kid, I loved to read
comics, and build plastic models.
Now I read a lot as a way to relieve stress. I originally wanted to
go to college in Wisconsin, with my buddies. About the coldest it gets
in my hometown in Puerto Rico is 70 degrees, so I felt Wisconsin would
be way too cold. I love to garden, and grow lots vegetables and over 20
varieties of roses. I am working on my master's degree in environmental
science, another interest of mine.
My mom is a nurse, and one of the most giving people I know. My dad
is a mechanical engineer, and he worked for the petrochemical companies.
I'm the oldest, with two sisters and a brother. My parents still live
in the same house I grew up in.
I am married and have one son, Eric, who is nine. Eric loves computer
and electronic games (like Nintendo), and basketball. He has a good heart
and loves to help people. I also have two step-sons - Frankie, who works
for a petrochemical company in Deer Park; and Lalo, who is in the Air
Force stationed in Panama, for the time being. My wife, Sylvia, and I
live in Dickinson. We love to barbecue, and go camping and fishing. We
love being outside.
I like dealing with people and resolving problems. My goal is to be
a manager, managing people more than projects. I am already a grandfather
and I love it, so I hope to live to be 100 years old. I also try to always
be in the right place at the right time.
Learn more from my NeurOn Chats
April 22, l998