Robert L. Howard Jr., Ph.D.

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Manager, Habitability
Design Center
NASA Johnson Space Center
Houston, Texas
Age: 39

The notion of “space as the final frontier,” is very real for Robert L. Howard Jr., Ph.D., an engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Long passionate about space travel, Howard has brought this passion full circle in his role as manager of NASA Johnson Space Center’s Habitability Design Center.  He leads a team of architects, industrial designers, engineers and usability experts, which develops and evaluates concepts for spacecraft cabin and cockpit configurations.

Howard received a bachelor’s degree in general science from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.  He also has a master’s in industrial engineering, with a focus on human factors, from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and a doctorate in aerospace engineering with a focus in spacecraft engineering from the University of Tennessee Space Institute.  He is currently pursuing a certificate in human systems integration from the Naval Postgraduate School.    

His fondness for space was further enhanced upon meeting astronaut Ronald McNair several years before McNair perished aboard the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle in 1986. Now, as a NASA engineer, Howard volunteers with the National Society of Black Engineers and works to create a community of African-American space professionals.  “My hope is that it will be easier for future generations to find Black mentors in the space industry,” he says. “There are a lot more Blacks in aerospace than most think, but we are isolated and hard to find. NSBE can be a vehicle to help change that.”

Howard speaks with fervor of space travel and its unlimited resources.  “We really have not applied ourselves as a nation to space and as a result, our economic options are limited.  The moon could meet all of Earth’s energy needs if we learned how to tap into it,” he says.

Fun Facts
Last movie:
“Battle: Los Angeles”
Favorite dish: Lasagna
Favorite singer: Sho Baraka

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