By Rebecca Rakoczy
Kavya Manyapu is fulfilling a lifelong dream of working for NASA.
The former Georgia State University Perimeter College student — and now rocket scientist — has joined NASA’s Artemis program at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Artemis aims to take the first woman to the moon by 2024, 55 years after Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong’s history-making landing.
Manyapu’s career in aerospace has been a blast from the start, she says. For almost a decade, she worked in multiple roles with Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner program in Houston.
“It is the dream of every rocket scientist to be working on a spaceflight program,” Manyapu says. “We went from sketches on paper to launching our first test flight. Working with our Boeing and NASA partners, it was an incredible experience.”
Her next goal: Travel to space as an astronaut.
She’s been working toward it since she was a little girl gazing up at the moon and stars with her father from the roof of their home in India. The family moved to the United States in 2002 in part to help Manyapu pursue her NASA plans.
As an international student, Manyapu enrolled at Perimeter (then Georgia Perimeter College), where she studied engineering. She made some of her first contacts with staff at NASA thanks to professor Anant Honkan.
She transferred to Georgia Tech in 2004, earning a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering followed by a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became the first person at the University of North Dakota to receive a doctorate in aerospace sciences from the Department of Space Studies, where she is now an adjunct professor.
At Boeing, Manyapu was flight test engineer on the CST 100 Starliner, a commercial spacecraft designed to go to the International Space Station. She worked to ensure safe exit strategies for astronauts in emergencies and was a flight test director for the Starliner’s first orbital flight test. Manyapu was also spacesuit operations lead, testing and training astronauts in Starliner spacesuits. She helped design and develop the cockpit display and control systems and conducted mock-up evaluations as well.
Drawing from that experience, Manyapu focused her doctoral research on creating a “dust-proof” spacesuit.
“I studied lunar dust and its impact on spacesuits,” she says. “It proved to be a major issue during Apollo missions. With no atmosphere, dust on the moon is sharp and abrasive, and it got into everything, including the spacesuits.”
Manyapu now holds several patents for a “smart” spacesuit fabric that contains carbon nanotubes which repel dust when an electric current is applied to them. Some of the fabric she created for her research was sent to the International Space Station in 2019.