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Meet: Kelly Humphries

Internet/Mars Exploration/Mission Commentary

Senior Public Affairs Specialist - Public Affairs Office
Information and Media Support Branch
Johnson Space Center

Webcast Archives

"No matter where you go, there you are!"
-- Doctor Who (a camp British television series about a guy who traveled time and space in what looked like a police phone booth)

Who I am and What I do

I work in the Public Affairs Office at Johnson Space Center (JSC). Public Affairs is kind of like public relations. We work to get information about what NASA does out to the public, either directly or through the news media. I work with reporters for newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television networks to set up interviews with NASA experts, send out news releases and put together web sites. My getting into public affairs is a follow-on to my first career as a newspaper reporter and editor.

My "baby" is the NASA Human Spaceflight Website -- I led a team that started development of the site in 1995. Although I don't do the day-to-day management of the site any more, I still work with all the NASA centers to make sure the best information available about human spaceflight is getting onto that web site, which is supposed to be the main place people go on the web for that kind of information.

I work as the "Voice of Mission Control," during shuttle missions and space station expeditions, as the "announcer" who explains what the astronauts are doing in space. I'm also the computer expert for our office.

I also manage the content of the JSC Web, covering all activities of the Johnson Space Center, and production of the Daily Cyber Space Roundup, a daily online newspaper for JSC employees.

I serve as the chief information officer for JSC Public Affairs, as a member of the JSC Information Technology Steering Committee and as the Public Affairs Office Computer Security Official. It all keeps me quite busy!

Education and Career Journey

I graduated from Wichita North High School (Kansas) in 1974. I received my bachelor of arts degree in journalism in 1981, and my master of arts degree in public administration in 1986 -- both from Wichita State University.

I began my journalism career in 1973 as a copy boy for the Wichita Eagle-Beacon newspaper, the largest daily newspaper in Kansas, serving also as an editorial clerk and police reporter until 1980. I then joined the Hutchinson News as a general assignment reporter. I was promoted, in 1981, to night editor -- responsible for planning, layout, editing and headline writing for all news pages and supervising a staff of 10 reporters.

While working on my master's degree, I worked as an intern in the City of Wichita City Manager's Office, serving as the public affairs officer for the city. I also had the opportunity to work as a Presidential Management Intern, which is when I accepted a position with the public affairs office at JSC, in 1986 -- where I was editor of the official center newspaper, Space News Roundup, from 1987-1998. In 1989, I was promoted to internal communications manager, in charge of the newspaper, the recorded telephone Employee Information Service and the new Daily Space Fax Roundup. In 1990, I began work as a Mission Control Center commentator, providing "play-by-play" coverage of space shuttle mission activities. I have served as a commentator on more than 40 space shuttle missions.

In 1995, I was assigned to lead a NASA-wide team in the development of an online Internet information resource for reporters and the public that became known as the NASA Shuttle Web. Later that same year, I led the team that developed the NASA Shuttle-Mir Web, providing online information about the continuing American presence aboard the Russian Mir Space Station. The three web sites received numerous awards.

In 1998, the three web sites were combined into the NASA Human Spaceflight Web to promote the symbiotic nature of the programs, and to provide for expansion into future human space exploration areas. In August 1999, the web site was named as one of the Top 50 scientific and technical web sites in the world by Popular Science magazine, and as one of the Top Space Exploration web sites by Yahoo Internet Life magazine.

In December 1999, I was picked by three NASA associate administrators to lead an agency-wide team whose goal is to integrate a collection of independent web sites dealing with human spaceflight into a unified web presence for the Human Exploration and Development of Space enterprise. In April 2000, I had the honor of being named a Computerworld Smithsonian laureate for my work on this web site, which is now part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Growing Up

I grew up in Wichita, Kansas. My mom was a newspaper reporter and food editor, and my dad was a newspaper photographer. My dad died in a plane crash when I was three years old. My mom got married again when I was 10 and I got two stepbrothers and two stepsisters. I went to McLean Elementary in Wichita, then John Marshall Junior High and North High School. I went to college at Wichita State University, my hometown school.

Growing up, I always wanted to be an astronaut. I have been interested in the space program ever since my mom let me stay home from kindergarten to watch Alan Shepard's first short flight into space, May 5, 1961. (I actually got to meet Shepard, here in Houston, during the 20th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 mission in 1989).

I've always loved camping and still do it a lot. I'll never forget the time my mom, stepdad, stepbrother and I drove the Alaskan Highway in our Mercury Marquis station wagon, camping out all the way from Kansas to Alaska. When we were camped out south of Fairbanks at Harding Lake, I got up very early one morning because of some noise outside in the campground. I took my camera outside and took pictures of a big brown bear that was making the rounds with her two cubs. While I was outside the tent, the bear came to our campsite. There wasn't any food in the trash for the bear to find at our campsite, so the bear got mad and took a swipe at our tent, knocking it down while my folks were inside. I went and woke them up (they slept through it all and no one was hurt), and then we stayed up and built a big fire to keep the bears away the rest of the night. My mom wouldn't camp out any more on that trip, so we stayed in hotels on the way home.

My grandfather Ralph was my best role model. He kind of took over as my "dad" when my real father was killed. My folks moved out of Wichita about the time I was graduating from high school, so I went to live with him and my grandmother then. I ended up living with him the whole time I went to college. He was my best friend and roommate, until he died at age 93. He sold Oldsmobiles until he was 80 years old, and I would like to have as long and productive a life as he had. The other thing he taught me a lot about is having a good balance in your life. I think it is important to balance things like career and family, work and play, exercise and relaxation.

As a kid, I loved to read all kinds of books, but especially adventure stories. I read a lot of Mark Twain books, like "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," and then discovered science fiction. Some of my favorite science fiction authors are Frank Herbert ("Dune"), Isaac Asimov ("Foundation" and a whole lot more), and Roger Zelazny ("The Amber Chronicles").

Family and Personal

I live in Nassau Bay, right across the street from the Johnson Space Center, in a house that was originally built by Walt Cunningham, the Apollo 7 astronaut. It is a really cool house.

I have been married and divorced twice, and have one daughter, Lauren, who is 14. She is an aspiring ballet dancer (her mother was a professional ballet dancer) and singer (no one knows where that came from, but she's great!).

I share the house with my Great Dane, Astra (named from the Kansas state motto of "Ad Astra Per Aspera" which means "To the stars through difficulty" in Latin), and Cocker Spaniels, Sophie and Samantha. Astra is two, but acts like a big puppy. She likes to grab Sam by the collar and gallop around the back yard, carrying her. Sam doesn't like it much, but puts up with it.

My family likes to go camping and mountain bike riding, or go out to a movie and eat sushi. I also enjoy playing basketball, softball and darts. I'm also a pretty good cook (Lauren's favorite is my mushroom burgers).

I like creating things - whether it is writing a story or news release, translating all of the highly technical stuff NASA does into something you and other people can understand or building a web page. I like "tricking" computers into doing what I want them to do. My least favorite part of the job is the paperwork.

A word of advice: Get a good general education, where you learn a little about a lot of different things. Be sure to study your math and engineering (wish I had studied those better, now). Most important -- learn how to learn and how to communicate what you learn to other people in a way that they can understand it, too.

Future Plans and Goals

Most important, I'm looking forward to seeing my daughter continue to grow up and become good at what she likes to do. I enjoy working with NASA, and hope to continue doing so, and to help the agency in whatever capacity I can. I believe human space flight is extremely important to the continued development of the human race, and am happy to play whatever small part I can to make space travel an everyday thing for all of us.

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