“If life gives you lemons, make lemonades.”

Going with the flow seems to be the secret of Thomasian National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) “hero”, Angelita Castro-Kelly. For more than 25 years, she has reaped a number of achievements in space observation—a fete she says she owes greatly to her Thomasian education.

“Angie” as she is known in NASA, graduated summa cum laude from the old UST College of Liberal Arts in 1962, with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics.

The youngest of six children, Kelly said her father, Dr. Miguel Castro Sr., and her mother, Eufemia Castro, a UST Pharmacy alumna, were her inspirations.

“My mother expected us to excel well and to follow the good examples set by my siblings, like my brother,the late Ambassador Pacifico Castro,” she told the Varsitarian.

Like most of her brothers and sisters, Kelly spent most of her school days in UST. In grade school, she fondly remembers Fr. Tomas Martinez O.P., who later became her high school regent, telling them stories, and giving them “stampitas” and candies.

“I think I was blessed to have a mother who cared a lot about getting a Catholic education,” Kelly said.

In high school, Kelly joined radio quizzes, declamation, spelling, and religion contests, most of the time winning for the girls’ team.

Dr. Gloria de Castro-Bernas, director of the Office for Research and Development and Kelly’s high school best friend, recalls her as a typical high school girl.

“Angie had an active teenage life. She juggled debating, school paper writing, and leading student orgs,” Bernas told the Varsitarian. “She was always passionate in everything she does that’s why it’s no wonder she has gained so much achievements even abroad.”

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After graduating as high school salutatorian, (an early lesson in dealing disappointment since everyone had expected her to be valedictorian), Kelly enrolled at the BS Math and Physics program of the old College of Liberal Arts. While in college, she became president of the Pax Romana and a member of the Central Board of Students.

“I remember enjoying the excursions to Jale Beach and Aristocrat Beach, cheering for the Glowing Goldies Basketball team, and the annual La Naval Holy Rosary processions,” Kelly said through e-mail. “My mother prayed a lot, and she taught us to pray with her. I think her prayers kept us on the straight path, that’s why I take God with me wherever I go.”

Voyager

Right after graduation, Kelly left for the US to pursue a master’s degree in Physics at the University of Maryland. Here, she met her husband, Dr. Francis Kelly, a fellow physicist.

In 1977, Kelly began her 12-year association with the Space Shuttle Manned Flight Missions as a mathematics/data analyst of the development team that designed and implemented the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Spacelab Data Processing Facility (SLDPF). The SLDPF is the core space shuttle mission involved in scientific investigations like microgravity, life sciences, solar physics, and crystal growth.

In 1990, Kelly became the Mission Operations Manager for the Earth Observing System (EOS) project, the major component of NASA’s “Earth Science Enterprise” program. This makes her the first and sole Filipina engineer to hold such a position. As EOS manager, she is responsible for developing its overall mission operations concepts, working with various spacecrafts and ground system developers to ensure the implementation of mission requirements.

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“Before I went to NASA, my idea of it was so narrow—I only thought about rocket ships,” Kelly said. “After I started working at Goddard, I learned the diversity of scientific and engineering disciplines, and the many opportunities to contribute to the space program,” she added.

Today, Angie has a dual role in the EOS Science Interface and Earth Science Constellation as team manager. Kelly consults with EOS science teams and users to ensure efficiency of scientific data obtained from satellites. She also works with other NASA centers and international space agencies on how they will orbit together in one space mission. Ensuring safety of all satellites is necessary since these satellites hover very close to each other.

In November 2004, owing greatly to Angie’s efforts, six constellation science and mission teams signed the Afternoon Constellation Operations Coordination Plan or the A-Train, providing scientists with the opportunity to perform coincident observations of earth scientific investigations.

Kelly’s contributions to the space program have been recognized. She received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Manned Flight Program Launch Honoree Award, the GSFC Exceptional Performance Award, and the unique Astronauts’ Manned Flight “Snoopy” award.

In December 1993, President Fidel V. Ramos awarded the “Pamana ng Bayan” Presidential Award for Science and Technology to Kelly at Malacañang. She was also named one of UST’s Ten Outstanding Thomasian Alumni (TOTAL) for Science and Technology in 1993.

Other than NASA, Angie also serves as the director of GSFC’s Summer Institute in Science and Technology for Junior High School Girls, Goddard Advisory Committee for Asian and Pacific American Employees, and Mission Operations and Data Systems Directorate Multicultural Advisory Team.

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“I was the only female for many years on the teams that I worked with—this I consider an achievement,” Kelly said. “For female Thomasians who want to have successful careers, I advise them not lose sight of their priorities—God, and family.”

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