Rarick named 2017 Outstanding Engineering Alumna


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Heather L. Rarick (’87 AERSP), Flight Operations Directorate, assistant director for Commercial Crew Program (CCP), NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), has been named a 2017 Outstanding Engineering Alumna by the Penn State College of Engineering.

The Outstanding Engineering Alumni (OEA) Award recognizes graduates who have reached exceptional levels of professional achievement. It rewards outstanding alumni for their success in their field and for the impact they have had and will continue to have on society and their profession. Established in 1966, the award is the highest honor bestowed by the college.

Rarick, along with the college’s other 11 OEA Award recipients, will receive her award at a ceremony on April 20 at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus of Penn State.

“I’m overwhelmed knowing the aerospace engineering department would think this highly of me,” said Rarick. “I know I work hard, but I didn’t expect any recognition for that work. For them to see that, and to receive an award for it—I’m speechless.”

In her role at JSC, Rarick serves as the primary point of contact with the CCP, ensuring operational expertise and technical recommendations are applied to human space-flight missions, specifically those to the International Space Station (ISS).

Rarick held several additional leadership roles at JSC, including ISS flight director, where she led Mission Control Center (MCC) operations to safely achieve mission objectives for Expedition 17 and Space Shuttle mission STS-128/17A, and also supported numerous other ISS expeditions and Shuttle missions. Rarick also chaired a Russian joint operations panel to negotiate operational issues and flight rules between NASA and Roscosmos, and was flight controller and lead for the Houston Support Group/Russian Interface Officer, where she led flight controllers working as liaisons between MCC, Moscow, and the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle Control Centre.

Rarick began her career at Rockwell Space Operations Company, working as a shuttle flight design engineer designing nominal and abort trajectories, analyzing shuttle software and flight safety issues, and supporting MCC during shuttle launches.

Rarick has received numerous honors and awards during her career, including the NASA Going the Extra Mile Award in 1993, the Rockwell Space Operations Sustained Superior Performance Award in 1994, the United Space Alliance Employee of the Month-Technical Achievement Award in 1997, the NASA Silver Snoopy in 1997, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2008 and 2009, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 2016.

A native of Mt. Lebanon, PA, and graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, Rarick chose to attend Penn State and major in aerospace engineering because of the strong reputation of the College of Engineering and the thoroughness of the aerospace engineering program.

Rarick credits her Penn State education for her career success.

“Penn State and the aerospace engineering department gave me an excellent basis for which I believed I could go to any company and do whatever job was out there,” said Rarick. “All the important aerospace engineering elements were covered in my education, but we also used computer programming for a large portion of our coursework. That extensive technical background, couple with the disciplined approach to problem solving I acquired, was an advantage and allowed me to take on tasks other engineers couldn’t and achieve early success in the field.”

While at Penn State, Rarick was active in the Penn State chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and was also a member of the Penn State ski club. She later earned an MBA in 1992 from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Rarick has remained active with Penn State and the Department of Aerospace Engineering. In 2011, she helped with the Penn State Alumni Association Houston chapter’s “City Lights” at JSC, where she provided a special tour of the mission control operations at the center, led a discussion of the technical and scientific hurdles that need to be overcome in the MCC, and discussed the future of NASA’s space program. Rarick was also a member of the aerospace engineering department’s Industrial and Professional Advisory Council from 2010 to 2013, serving as vice chair in 2012 and chair in 2013.

Rarick was the recipient of the College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education World-Class Engineer Alumni Award in 2008 and was named a Penn State Alumni Fellow, the most prestigious award given by the Penn State Alumni Association, in 2008.

Currently, Rarick serves on the steering committee, and as a judge, for the Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage Forum, a university-level, full mission human-scale architecture design competition for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Rarick resides in Houston, TX, with her husband, Douglas, and two daughters, Sydney and Alexandra.


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Chris Spallino


Heather Rarick, 2017 Outstanding Engineering Alumna

Heather Rarick ('87 AERSP), 2017 Outstanding Engineering Alumna



The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

Department of Aerospace Engineering

229 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2569