Reaching for the stars at NASA Alumna’s career in orbit working with shuttle program

Space Shuttle Atlantis roars to life on Launch Pad 39A, set on a path to link with the international space station.

Smoke billows beneath the shuttle as the final seconds tick down. Millions of gallons of water rush to deafen the sound. As the crowd stands three miles away, the closest anyone is allowed, the sound shakes the onlookers and sets off every car alarm within miles.

One of the spectators is OC alumna Diana (Kniffin 03) Oglesby, who works full-time for NASA in the IT Security Office at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Even though this is her sixth shuttle launch, it still excites her as much as her first.

Diana’s love for NASA began long before she came to Oklahoma Christian to pursue a degree in computer science. When she was eight, she informed her father that she would someday work for the space agency. A mural of an astronaut floating in space hung on a bedroom wall of her childhood home.

“NASA has always been a place that inspired me,” she said. “They were on the frontier of exploration and that was always very exciting for me.”

In 2002, following her junior year at OC, Diana’s dream to work at NASA became a reality. She was chosen as one of 36 university students out of 5,000 applicants from across the nation to take part in NASA’s summer internship program.

It was during this summer that Diana experienced her first shuttle launch, STS 111.

“That was an amazing opportunity. Getting a chance to see your work product in action is absolutely incredible,” she said. “The launch is so powerful and so loud. You cannot even imagine the amount of energy used as it is lifting off the ground. Your chest rumbles and your heart pounds.”

Today, she is still amazed that something so powerful is taking people into space and that she has a part in each mission. Diana and 11 co-workers in her area work under the supervision of the Kennedy Space Center’s IT Security Manager, Henry Yu. Their team is responsible for ensuring the security and integrity of the IT systems.

“Diana has demonstrated an immense technical knowledge base, a tireless work ethic, and a can-do attitude in all tasks,” Yu said. “Diana is a natural-born leader with great potential to lead through personal influence … and the quality of her work is exceptional. She performs like a seasoned veteran and has made an enormous impact at KSC.”

The preparation Diana received during her time at OC has benefitted her at NASA. Her education focused not only on the general understanding of software and computer algorithms, but also on the aspects of teamwork and group dynamics.

“I think the greatest experience you can learn at college is how to work with a team and how to work with people,” she said. “You can do all the studying you want to learn the material and gain book smarts, but that won’t help you as much in the real world as simply understanding people and knowing how to work as a team.”

Diana recently spent four months on an extended assignment with the Office of the Chief Information Officer at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The new assignment allowed her to see a different perspective of the agency, to see what takes place outside her own area.

“While I’m sure Diana enhanced her skill sets and gained valuable experience while on this detail, our headquarters’ staff learned a great deal about Diana,” said Jerry Davis, NASA’s deputy chief information officer for IT security. “Diana is the standard by which the next generation of up-and-coming leaders will be measured against. Diana has all the critical attributes required to lead any enterprise.”

On the morning of February 20, the Space Shuttle Atlantis and her crew safely returned home after a 13-day mission that took them more than five million miles.

Meanwhile, the Space Shuttle Endeavour already was poised on Launch Pad 39A to make its next voyage. Diana and the team at Kennedy Space Center IT Security continue their tireless work to keep this and all future missions safe.

And Diana stands ready to watch another heart-pounding launch.

By Allison Shumate