Renee Horton, PhD, remembers spending many nights gazing at the stars as a child growing up in Baton Rouge, wondering if there was anything beyond our universe. Her interest in space was stimulated during family trips to Biloxi, Mississippi, to visit her uncle, who was in the Air Force. The family would stop at the rest area outside of the John Stennis Space Center — where a replica of the moon lander was located. “I played around it, pretending I was exploring space. One day, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut,” Horton wrote in an online feature at NASA.gov.
She joined the Air Force ROTC program and, during her physical, learned that she had significant hearing loss. Later, Horton was diagnosed with a hearing impairment which prevented her from applying to be an astronaut. But, she learned she could still play an important role in sending crews to space.
The Space Launch System is the first flight program Horton worked on at NASA. Many SLS parts — including the SLS core stage — are made of metal, including the largest rocket fuel tank ever built, and metallic materials and welding are my areas of expertise. As an engineer at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, she is helping build metal rocket parts that can withstand the extreme forces of launch and space travel, and will send astronauts farther away from Earth than they’ve ever traveled before. “Our team at Michoud is making history every day as we build this extraordinary new rocket. We’re moving one step closer to launching the most powerful rocket in the world, and it’s exciting to watch all of it come together,” she wrote.
At her father’s influence, Horton earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana State University. She loved math, and he thought engineering would be the best way for her to use her talents. She said she later switched to being a scientist because of her desire to learn and investigate. “Physics is my passion,” she wrote. “I’m the first African American — and first in my family — to earn a doctorate in material science, with a concentration in physics, from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.”
Horton enjoys photography, mentoring outside of work, writing poetry, and reading.