“The sky is not the limit. The sky is where we begin.” Those are the words of Robert L. Howard, Jr., Manager of the Habitability Design Center, with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Howard, or “Bobby” as he was affectionately called while he was a student at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI), Tullahoma, Tennessee, received his Doctorate in Aerospace Engineering in 2002. Frank Collins was his major professor.
Today, Howard is leading a team of architects, industrial designers and engineers in NASA’s Constellation Program who will develop concepts for the lunar lander, lunar outpost, and lunar rover. It is his responsibility to design the inside of the space vehicle into comfortable living quarters for up to four crew members who will be making their home on the moon for up to six months at a time.
There are many obstacles to overcome before the United States makes it way to the moon for long durations. Shielding the astronauts from solar radiation, conservation of all forms of water, including recycling and purifying perspiration and urine, are just a few but necessary things that are being investigated as part of the program.
Howard says it helps to have a strong imagination in order to create something that has never been done before. As a child, his imagination was allowed to thrive, even when at eight years old his mother found where he had used a key to “create” a control panel for a spacecraft on a closet wall.
He met astronaut Ronald McNair on two separate occasions when he was in grade school and former astronaut Fred Gregory became a mentor during his internship at Johnson Space Center.
Born in Xenia, Ohio, but raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, Howard received a Bachelor of Science in General Science from Morehouse College in 1995, and a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech in the same year, under the Morehouse-Georgia Tech Dual Degree Engineering Program. He received a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering with a focus in Human Factors from North Carolina A&T State University, graduating in December of 1997. His thesis was entitled “An Expert Systems Approach to Spacecraft Cabin Design.” In September of 2002 he received his PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. His dissertation was entitled “Formulation of a Cislunar Human Transportation Architecture Through Use of Analytic, Heuristic, and Parametric Algorithms.”
Upon graduation from UTSI, Howard began working at the NASA Johnson Space Center in October 2002.
He has been involved with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) since 1990, serving in numerous chapters. He is the Chairperson for the 2010 NSBE Aerospace Systems Conference, and founder and president of the Houston Space Chapter. He is the founder and director of NSBE’s Space Special Interest Group.
Howard is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National Space Society, and the Moon Society.