Photo Andrea M. Chavez

Andrea M. Chavez

Director, National Defense Operations and Planning,
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation

In recognition of her continuing technical and managerial leadership accomplishments at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation and her previous contributions to NASA, as evidenced by numerous awards and significant professional responsibilities

As a child growing up in the small farm community of Morristown, Ind., Andrea Chavez was intrigued by space flight. Little did she know that her dream would take flight not as an astronaut but as an engineer who trained crews for EVAs — extravehicular activities or space walks — and prepared the shuttle vehicles that launched them into space.

When it came time to prepare for her career, Purdue was the obvious choice.

"Purdue has an excellent reputation as a school for engineering," she says, citing her special interest in Purdue's reputation as the cradle of astronauts. "It became a very easy decision to attend Purdue."

Her goal at the time was to work for NASA to become an astronaut. Instead shortly after graduation, Chavez became a pyrotechnics test engineer there. Pyrotechnics are small explosive devices.

"There were well over a hundred pyrotechnics in the space shuttle system, including explosive bolts that released the shuttle from the launch pad, and the boosters and external tank from the shuttle, or that deployed the drag chute upon landing," she says.

In her role as an astronaut trainer for EVA systems, Chavez set a record for the longest hours spent by a woman in an extravehicular activity suit in simulated space environments. The EVA suit is one that astronauts wear on space walks.

She helped rectify the launch pad hydrogen fuel leaks that grounded the shuttle fleet for months in 1990 and trained the astronaut crew that repaired flawed optics on the Hubble Space Telescope.

After leaving NASA, Chavez has moved up the ranks at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., where she currently serves as Director of National Defense Operations and Planning.

Entering a male-dominated field like engineering was a challenge that Chavez says she quickly overcame by building relationships.

"I just worked hard and let my work ethic, competence and results speak for themselves," she says. "I always strive to learn whatever I can from every situation and apply it in a positive way going forward. I put my heart into uniting the diverse strengths of individuals to unleash the power to make an everlasting difference."

She credits her Purdue Engineering education with not only preparing her technically for her career but also giving her "room to fail and learn that it isn't the failure that's remembered so much as how you respond to that failure."

Beyond her professional roles, Chavez has advocated outreach programs for K-12 and college students interested in engineering and science, particularly as they relate to diversity, including sponsoring a scholarship in the AAE department at Purdue. On a personal note, she especially cherishes spending time in the mountains with her husband and two teenage children.

Career Highlights

2013-present Director, National Defense Operations & Planning, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. (BATC), Boulder, Colo.
2005–2013 Director, Manufacturing and Test Operations, BATC
2002–2005 Senior Engineering Manager, Systems Integration and Testing, BATC
1997–2002 Engineering Manager II, Clean Room Operations, BATC
1995–1997 Test Engineering, AXAF and GFO, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.
1994–1995 Facility Manager, Propulsion and Power Division, Thermochemical Test Branch, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
1992–1995 Test Director, Astronaut Training for EVA Suits, Crew Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center
1989–1992 Test Manager for Pyrotechnics Testing, Space Shuttle Program, NASA Johnson Space Center
1988–1989 Pyrotechnics Test Engineer, Tomahawk Cruise Missile and Air Force Special Programs, U.S. Naval Ordnance Station, Indian Head, Md.
1988 BSAAE, Purdue University