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Meet: Angel Plaza

Payload Project Engineering Manager
Johnson Space Center

photo of angel plaza

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 fly.


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 survives.


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 space program.

Personal Information

sunset picture 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.

Future goals

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


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