Returning to the Moon has been a constant goal of NASA’s, and Michelle Pierre is helping them reach that goal. Her work will help put people back on the Moon by 2024. It’s also work that recently won her the Innovation Mission Award for Exploration Ground Systems Technology at NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Michelle, a doctoral student in Materials Science and Engineering, completed a Fall internship at KSC’s Material Laboratory Branch and is now a Materials Engineer at NASA KSC.
Michelle graduated from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She is currently finishing her dissertation at FIU under Dr. Norman Munroe, her major advisor, and Dr. Shekhar Bhansali, her co-major advisor.
Michelle initially came to FIU because of the quality of research facilities available here, but she says that it’s ultimately the people who make FIU worth it.
“Every research lab represents so many countries in the world, where many cultures come together to make scientific discoveries,” Michelle says. “Graduate school can be such a lonely and exhausting road, but I was surrounded by many other graduate students and mentors that believed in me, and we supported each other through all the twists and turns.”
As for her interest in science, Michelle says she has always loved exothermic reactions. “My high school chemistry teacher always pushed me to break things, make a mess, and explore,” she says. “He was probably the only adult in my life at the time that didn’t want me to clean up.”
Michelle says that she lost her path to science after graduating from high school, as she had to pay bills to support her daughter and family. She says that, as a single mother, it is extremely difficult to pursue a graduate degree and work at the same time and says that the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program enabled her to pursue a Ph.D. She credits Dr. Sonja Montas-Hunter and Dr. Bhansali for their help with applying for funding resources.
“The funding resources that people like Dr. Montas and Dr. Bhansali helped me apply for allowed me to provide financially for my daughters, while also freeing time up for me to focus on coursework and research,” Michelle says. “I would not be in a Ph.D. without their support.”
The NASA internship introduced Michelle to corrosion engineering, the focus of her collaboration with NASA and her dissertation.
“NASA’s Artemis program will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before,” Michelle explains. “In preparing for this program, NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center have already begun designing the next Mobile Launcher 2, or ML2. ML2 is the ground structure that will be used to assemble, process, and launch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1B rocket and Orion spacecraft from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy for missions under NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach. The project that I am working on and that won the Innovation Mission Award will help make informed decisions on material choices on the ML2 that will prevent corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, and hydrogen embrittlement.”
After completing her doctoral degree, Michelle plans to continue working in the aerospace industry, solving real-world material problems through research and implementation. She also plans to remain connected to academia.
“I also hope to teach science part-time at the community college to encourage underrepresented groups to seek out STEM fields,” she says.