Jill McGuire - Apollo, 1987

Posted by Communications Department on 11/30/2016

Jill McGuire If you’re looking to engineer something and send it into space, Jill McGuire is your person! McGuire, a 1987 graduate of Apollo High School, is a space robotics application office lead at NASA. She and her team, after completing their mission to design and send over 200 tools into space for the Hubble Space Telescope servicing machine, are designing and engineering parts for robots to refuel satellites.

“I knew from an early age I wanted to be in design,” says McGuire. “I took a drafting class in high school and just fell in love with it.”

She feels that all the teachers at Apollo were supportive of her and her aspirations, especially since she was busy with athletics.

Her high school softball coach, John Ludwig, was her inspiration in school. He was instrumental in creating that team atmosphere and thought process, “if one succeeds, everyone succeeds.”

McGuire describes the new Robotic Refueling Mission she is working on as challenging. By using robots from the international space station, she and her team are designing tools that can be attached to those robots to refuel satellites. The tricky part is that there are three caps all wired together. The robot has to systematically remove each cap, and to do so in a way that does not disturb the fuel because it is highly combustible.

The goal of McGuire’s team is to use robotics to extend the life of satellites. Today’s satellites only have a 10 to 15 year life span due to running out of fuel. However, the data application software that is used in the satellite is still good and operable.

In the upcoming year and a half, McGuire will be demonstrating the refueling of a satellite and the transference of liquid cryogens for future missions to Mars.

What keeps McGuire inspired is the information.

“Seeing all the pictures and data from Hubble, it’s rewriting the textbooks of today,” says McGuire. “Bringing that data back to students is the biggest reward you can have. It’s just the best feeling--enriching people’s lives. How many people look up [in the sky] and wonder what’s there? And, when they see those pictures, you know in your heart you brought that.”

McGuire sees herself doing this for the rest of her life.

“I’ll ride out my career. It will be spent doing robotic technology in space. Robotic technology is still very immature,” says McGuire.

McGuire certainly has put in the work to get where she is today. Following graduation from Apollo, she attended the University of North Dakota where she was accepted into a co-op with the university and NASA.

However, she almost didn’t make it in. Her motto: persistence pays off.

“I never take no for an answer,” says McGuire. “Instead I ask, ‘What will it take?’ It’s just a matter of finding the solution.”

During the interview process for the co-op, she went through three interviews and there was only one spot left. She continued to follow-up. She was eventually told the position isn’t glamorous. She’d be the only woman with 30 men. They weren’t sure if they were comfortable doing that.

McGuire simply said, “I’ll take it.”

McGuire says it was the best experience she could have received. She worked in fabrication, and as an engineer, she now knows both ends of the process. 

“It makes me a better engineer,” explains McGuire. “Not everybody has that experience.”

She tells young people looking for a career in engineering, “Don’t give up on that dream. Be persistent. Get your foot in the door any way you can and don’t take no for an answer.”

McGuire is an inspiring role model of her own advice.