Home Space Langley Celebrates Black History Month: Clayton Turner

Langley Celebrates Black History Month: Clayton Turner

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bhm clayton p. turner
bhm clayton p. turner

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This is a photo of Clayton P. Turner, Director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Clayton is wearing a suit and tie and sits on a desk. On his desk are papers, pens and pencils, medals, photos, an American flag, a model plane, and other assorted memorabilia. Buildings can be seen through a window in the background of the photo.
Clayton P. Turner serves as the Director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. His career at NASA Langley has spanned 33 years.

Clayton P. Turner serves as the Director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. His career at NASA Langley has spanned 33 years. His experiences prior to his career with NASA include three years of military service. He graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. 

  Who or what inspired you to choose your career and why?   

A snowstorm in western New York inspired me to go back to college. An interest in engineering inspired me to pursue an engineering degree. The work of others behind the scenes brought me to NASA.  

When I graduated from high school, I went to college to study what all my friends were studying. I didn’t have the proper motivation, so that didn’t go well. I went into the service and was in the military for three years. I worked as a recording engineer for about ten years. I worked repairing pinball machines and video games. It was in the last career piece where I was in a blizzard, outside on the back of a pickup truck when I decided to go back to college, significantly more motivated! 

I think my story highlights the story of many people: there’s not a storybook path to get to NASA. Everybody’s path will be their own path.

What do you find most rewarding about working with NASA?   

I find it rewarding that we get to reach for new heights to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind. We get to change the lives of people in a positive way. We get to impact the country. I have a saying on my board that reads, “We have the privilege to serve our country and the power to unite it.” That’s what’s exciting about being at NASA for me. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?   

 I enjoy traveling. The thing I’ve enjoyed the most over the last two years was going to visit my grandson, who is my first grandchild.   

What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in pursuing a career at NASA?   

Once you find your passion and the thing that excites you, you need to come and talk with us at NASA! Yes, we need scientists and engineers, but we need accountants, lawyers, and communications specialists. We have a great need right now for technicians. There is a wide range of fields where you can come and do exactly what I described: reach for new heights to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.   

How does your background and heritage contribute to your perspective and approach in your role at NASA?   

I think what was poured into me as I was growing up and was in the people who surrounded me was a desire and energy to serve and the insistence on making life better for others. That has been a big influence in me. I tend to be a bit of an introvert but because of my culture and because of my background I recognize it’s not actually about me, it’s about what you’re going to do for someone else.

The 2024 theme for Black History Month is “African Americans and the Arts,” spanning the many impacts that Black Americans have had on visual arts, music, cultural movements and more. How have the arts played a role in your life?    

The arts have pulled me out of my shell a bit and allowed me to try new things, experience new things, and listen to new things. If you listen to my playlist on my phone, you’d be surprised at what’s on there, but there are songs that come from a wide range of cultures that just light up my heart and make me think deeply. Being exposed to those things has made a big difference in my life. 

Source: nasa.gov