Gazebo Gazette

Testing rocket engines relates in some ways to having a morning cup of coffee. It takes a network of people to provide one’s coffee shop selection, from farmers growing beans to engineers designing machines to supply chain personnel scheduling deliveries.

In like manner, testing rocket engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, requires a support network with many different behind-the-scenes workers. Leslie Anderson, a NASA accountant in the Stennis Office of the Chief Financial Officer, is one of those workers.

A native of Picayune, Mississippi, Anderson now lives in nearby Carriere and makes a daily commute to the Stennis site she first visited on a sixth-grade field trip.

“I remember sitting in the auditorium, watching a video on the big screen about NASA and what it does,” she said. “The pictures were amazing. … It brought me out of the realm of my small hometown school and broadened my mind and perspective on new and interesting possibilities.”

Anderson further explored those possibilities as a summer student intern at Stennis in 1990 and 1991. She was hired as an accounting analyst by site contractor Johnson Controls World Services in 1992, then joined the NASA civil servant workforce in 1994. “I basically grew up here at Stennis,” she said.

Today, Anderson is the lead accountant in the Reimbursable Accounting Branch at Stennis. Her team supports all reimbursable accounting work for the center’s on-site tenants and commercial customers. She also is part of a NASA team focused on implementing a new federal G-Invoicing system for efficient intra-governmental transactions.

Working in a support area, Anderson must remain flexible to meet the agency’s needs and understand where projects are headed. “As the agency Mission Support Directorate makes decisions, you must be ready to change with it and figure out how to make the business work,” Anderson said, “That can be simple, or it can be very challenging.”

The challenge is worth it and offers the opportunity to be a part of historic work, Anderson said. For instance, she had a firsthand chance to view the historic hot fire of the first flight core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis in March 2021. NASA is building SLS to power deep space Artemis missions to the Moon and eventual flights to Mars. The maiden Artemis I test mission is set to launch later this year.

“It was exciting to be able to be a part of a key historical occasion that would bring NASA even closer to returning to the Moon,” she said. “That was a great day.”

At the same time, Anderson said people are her favorite aspect of working at Stennis. “I’ve been privileged to meet interesting, passionate, and friendly people who have become family to me,” she said. “They care about the work, and they care about each other. I have spent the greater part of my life now at Stennis, and I often think of how blessed I have been to be a part of this agency, particularly in this location.”

Anderson described the Stennis culture as “welcoming and encouraging.” She said she feels privileged for the opportunity to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds. “I love hearing their stories and learning from the experiences they share and the gifts they bring to the table,” she said.

Looking ahead, Anderson said she is excited about the possibilities of expanding the Stennis federal city to include new tenants and test complex customers. “Stennis provides fantastic job opportunities for south Mississippi and Louisiana residents, and I would love to see that continue and flourish,” she said.

Anderson said she also is excited about upcoming Artemis missions, including those that will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.

“NASA is all about doing what has never been done before and pioneering the way,” she said. “We excel at that, and we need to keep moving forward with that exploration mission. There is a lot to see out there.”

At the same time, Anderson said she interested in how NASA research and technology spinoffs improve everyday lives on Earth. She encourages others to check out the NASA Spinoff website (spinoff.nasa.gov), which highlights how space-related technologies and capabilities are benefiting everyday people.

Considering her work at Stennis, Anderson maintained the spotlight is not required for professional satisfaction.