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Aug. 14, 2018

Sue Selke and alumna Kristine Haugaard: Moving rockets

Sue Selke, director of MSU’s School of Packaging, turned over the reins of this week’s Faculty Voice to Kristine Haugaard, packaging alumna from the class of 1984 who works at United Launch Alliances.

Kristine Haugaard has one of the coolest packaging careers I could imagine. More than half of all packaging graduates come from MSU, but how many of them can say they package rockets? Our graduates find ways to enhance product quality, increase efficiency and reduce waste. Haugaard adds the coup de grace of achieving all those goals as well as help a satellite travel to the sun.


Kristine Haugaard is an MSU alumna from the School of Packaging in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

When asked what I do for a living, my response is either, “I package rocket parts” or “I help move rockets on Earth.”

When I graduated from MSU, most of the packaging grads headed into the food industry, pharmaceuticals or computer companies. I ended up at General Motors. There, I was exposed to supply chain logistics and gained an understanding of the need for having well thought-out processes and procedures for the preservation and protection of parts and assemblies. I gained an insight into the importance of getting parts to the assembly plants on time and in good shape. Packaging is all about getting the product from point A to point B in the same condition in which it left point A.

After the automotive introduction into professional life, I landed in the aerospace industry, at McDonnell Douglas and packaged airplane parts, ranging from raw materials and piece parts to MD-80 wing spars and even MD-11 tail cone sections. I can get on an airplane and know what the individual parts look like.

My favorite part to package was the “black box,” which is actually orange in color. I wrote the transportability manual for MD-11 parts, which shows how their containers fit into/through various cargo airplane envelopes. I left McDonnell Douglas, went to Compaq Computer Corp. (now Hewlett-Packard) for a year and packaged computer servers. I consider that year as my “year of cushioning.” (This cushioning experience came in handy later when I was packaging avionics boxes for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.)

Then I went back to the Southern California aerospace industry, where I found myself first in logistics for Boeing’s Delta IV program, and then packaging parts that were meant for launch vehicles that fly above 40,000 feet. Assisting with the design of a container that protected a one-of-a-kind piece of spaceflight hardware and then writing a procedure that loaded it into a military aircraft (with only 1 inch of clearance) is truly one of the highlights of my career.

Today, I work for United Launch Alliance, the nation's most experienced and reliable launch service provider. I currently work the ULA factory in Alabama where I help protect the rocket parts from degradation and corrosion and assist with transporting the assemblies to ULA’s launch sites in Florida and California. Most of this transportation is done via a dedicated ship and one of my job responsibilities is to provide a stow plan.

While the parts I design are not-for-flight and stay here on Earth, they do protect the parts used in the rockets that deliver Air Force, NASA and other satellites to orbit. ULA doesn’t make the satellites, we provide its ride to space. And soon our Atlas V rocket will return American astronauts to space from American soil.

Recently, astronauts came to the factory to view our assembly process, and patiently posed for pictures with (pretty much) all of us who work in the factory. As I approached for my turn, I shook their hands and as we turned to the photographer, I said, “I’m not-for-flight. I just help move the rocket parts on Earth.” They laughed, the photo was taken, and then one of them turned to me and said, “Someone’s got to do that job!” and they shook my hand again.

One of my favorite parts to package is the payload fairing – the top part of the rocket and is what protects the satellite/payload as it is lifted out of the atmosphere. Payloads launched into space must be clean and it is a challenge to find packaging that meets the (oftentimes) strict requirements. My favorite aspect of this job is that I get to know the entire rocket. It’s satisfying to me to see it launch and know how the parts were protected during their journey to the launch site.

This started with a packaging degree from Michigan State University!

Read more: Packaging everything from rockets to coffee