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Blakeley

Hillary Berndt Blakeley ’08 spends her workdays thinking up ideas that might seem out of this world – and gets the chance to turn those ideas into reality. 

Blakeley is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton. And while her team’s ideas might at first seem outside the box, they have developed into important breakthroughs for the U.S. space program. 

She started at NASA in 2013, shortly after graduating from UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Since then, she has worked on diverse missions from SAGE III’s development of an atmospheric monitoring device to a system that can safely pull away astronauts with the PA-1 project.  Most recently, Blakeley served on a project called LOFTID to develop an inflatable heat shield that is the leading technology enabling NASA’s missions to Mars and beyond.

Blakeley attended the launch of each of these projects and was on console for LOFTID’s. Seeing so much hard work – LOFTID was more than five years in the making when it launched in 2022 – come to fruition was a special feeling. 

“You have poured so much time and thought in,” Blakeley said. “To see it launch and operate successfully is nothing short of amazing.” 

Blakeley thanks Norfolk Academy for helping her on her journey. She always loved problem solving but wasn’t sure where that would take her when she was younger. Upper School Physics Teacher Neil Duffy assured her of her abilities and emboldened her to tackle advanced physics. NA’s College Counseling Department encouraged her to pursue engineering and led Blakeley to UVA, where she studied engineering while minoring in another of her loves, studio art. 

NA encouraged her scholastically and artistically and “now I do both as I design spacecraft,” Blakeley said. 

Next for Blakeley’s team is capitalizing on the success of the LOFTID mission. The project will be used to advance landing technologies for destinations including Mars, Venus, and Saturn’s moon. 

Blakeley’s advice for students who like to problem solve but aren’t sure where that can lead: Pursue your passions and ask many questions along the way. 

“Never give up on your dreams,” she said.  


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of Academy Magazine. 

Hillary Berndt Blakeley '08 is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton.

Hillary Berndt Blakeley '08 is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton.

Hillary Berndt Blakeley '08 at a NASA rocket launch in November 2023.

Hillary Berndt Blakeley '08 at a NASA rocket launch in November 2023.

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