A surprise call from NASA in 1987 changed Angelia Walker’s life. The Phenix City native was starting her first semester at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia when Marshall Space Flight Center offered her a job.
Walker had already graduated from Tuskegee University with an electrical engineering degree, but she didn’t know how NASA had found her — a college friend’s sister worked at Marshall and passed along Walker’s resume to human resources.
“My coming to NASA…,” Walker’s voice trailed off. “Sometimes the story doesn’t even seem real to me when I tell it.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” added Walker, who in May was appointed to the Senior Executive Service position of deputy director of Marshall’s Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department. “I didn’t apply. I didn’t know how I got here.”
The Senior Executive Service is the personnel system covering most of the top managerial positions in federal agencies.
During her 31-year career, Walker has earned a Space Flight Awareness Honoree award; a Silver Snoopy award, which honors NASA civil servants and contractors chosen by the astronaut corps for outstanding service to human spaceflight; multiple Director’s Commendations and a number of Special Service and Group Achievement awards.
Prior to her most recent appointment, Walker had been acting director of Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems since February. Her past roles include a one-year detail providing technical support for Marshall leadership; chief of Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Systems Engineering and Integration; assistant chief engineer for space shuttle propulsion at Marshall; manager of the Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Policy Assessment Department at Marshall; and a detail as acting associate director of engineering at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“I knew from the time I started that I wanted to make NASA my career,” Walker said. “That I would never leave until I retire. I’ve heard some people come in and say, ‘I’ll give NASA five or six years, then I’ll go on to private industry or back to academia.’ But my thought has always been ‘I’ll work for NASA.’”
Today, Walker assists in the oversight of an annual budget of about $80 million for the Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department, and management of its approximately 450 civil service and contractor employees. It is her responsibility to make sure that the department makes the necessary technological investments to stay on the cutting edge. Walker also ensures that her department hires employees with the right skills, and that the workforce is large enough to handle the demands of projects involving the Space Launch System, the Gateway lunar space station and lunar landers.
“What I enjoy most in my job is the people — the interaction with the engineers,” Walker said. “There are some brilliant people in this department. While they are brilliant and exceptional, in terms of their technical aptitude, they are very much people — very common, regular folks. You see them in the grocery store and they’re talking about the price of tomatoes.”
Walker is the second youngest of seven children. Her parents, who worked in cotton mills, stressed the importance of education. In school, Walker enjoyed the logic needed to solve math problems, and she took the toughest math courses available at Central High School in Phenix City. She wasn’t as keen on science classes and she wasn’t knowledgeable about the engineering field. But a teacher saw her potential and recommended that she apply for Tuskegee’s pre-engineering program.
Now Walker makes time for speaking to K-12 students in hopes of inspiring a new generation of engineers, scientists and explorers.
“What I try to do, especially with economically disadvantaged and impoverished children, is to try to make them aware that this world exists,” she said, motioning to the NASA world outside her fifth-floor window. “And if you like science and math, that doesn’t make you bad. That just makes you different, and in some ways it gives you an advantage. I feel like I owe that to somebody, to give them the knowledge that I didn’t have, to fill that gap that I had in my life. Maybe that’s why God let it happen for me. That’s kind of my mission, my purpose.”
For more information about Marshall Space Flight Center, visit nasa.gov/centers/marshall/.