Hemanth Koralla was working as a software developer for General Motors when he received a LinkedIn message inviting him to apply for a NASA contract position with Jacobs Technology. While unexpected, Koralla seized the opportunity. “You can’t say no to NASA!”

Koralla has spent the last two years helping to develop the Vehicle System Manager (VSM) for Gateway, NASA’s lunar space station. The VSM is vehicle-level software that will allow the station’s different components to communicate with each other and enable both human-directed and autonomous operations. Much of Koralla’s work involves designing prototypes for software that can build Gateway’s autonomous capabilities. He is also part of a design support team that works to “unblock problems” for the VSM team and provide help wherever it is needed.

An Indian man wearing glasses and traditional attire speaks at a podium with the NASA meatball on the front.
Hemanth Koralla addresses the audience at Johnson Space Center’s Asians Succeeding in Innovation and Aerospace (ASIA) Employee Resource Group (ERG) Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month festival in 2023.
NASA/Josh Valcarcel

Reflecting on his favorite NASA experiences to date, Koralla declared the community at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to be “much more exciting” than in his previous positions, citing his opportunity to don Cosmo’s inflatable mascot suit for an Artemis I launch event as one example. “I just love how these emails go out asking, who wants to be a part of this? I said, yes, I’m going to do that, and then I just showed up and got to be Cosmo and take pictures with people. I didn’t expect to do that, and it was a really fun experience,” he said.

Koralla has also enjoyed helping to organize the Engineering Directorate’s annual employee picnics, in part because they have allowed him to meet colleagues from across the entire organization. His involvement in the planning created other opportunities, as well. “As a thank you, they invited us to the OSIRIS-REx sample reveal,” he said. “It’s those moments that you step back and realize, wow, we’re working on something really cool here.”

Koralla got active in the ASIA Employee Resource Group (ERG) shortly after arriving at Johnson in 2022, when the chair asked him to join as a cohort member and to help lead the group’s social activities. He was elected as the ERG’s recording secretary for 2023. In that role, Koralla continued to play an important part in the group’s events – including its AA and NHPI Heritage Month festival. He was particularly inspired by NASA astronaut Jonny Kim, whom he got to introduce as the festival’s emcee, and the performers who helped celebrate diversity at Johnson.

A group of eight male and female Asian American individuals pose for a photograph with NASA astronaut Jonny Kim and a spacesuit.
Hemanth Koralla (third from left) poses with ASIA ERG board members and NASA astronaut Jonny Kim during the group’s AA and NHPI Heritage Month festival.
NASA/Josh Valcarcel

Koralla observed that the festival and other ASIA ERG events help spread cultural awareness, noting, as an example, that he did not know Nowruz was a holiday until the ERG organized a related celebration. An Iftar dinner, the fast-breaking evening meal of Muslims in Ramadan, was another opportunity to engage with Johnson team members. “There’s such a big community at NASA that this opens the door for them to meet each other as well,” he said.

Meeting diverse Johnson colleagues and building connections through the ERG has given Koralla a better picture of NASA’s full scope of work.

Outside of the ERG, Koralla tries to support diversity and inclusion by making sure everyone’s voice is heard. “We do these deep dives where we try to work out a design for something in six to eight weeks. I definitely notice that people who are earlier in their career have a tougher time speaking up, which I can relate to because I’ve been in that situation. In those moments I try to say, let’s see what everyone in the room is thinking.”

He appreciates being part of a team that values the sharing of experiences and cultures, as well. “We have created a nice open space where we can talk openly about a lot of things and ask questions without any fear of judgment,” he said, noting that he and his teammates have many conversations about their respective cultures.

Koralla also points to the uniting power of food. “We had a Thanksgiving lunch last year, and most team members brought in typical Thanksgiving food. I didn’t grow up with that American tradition, so I brought in some Indian food instead,” he said. “It was a nice cultural sharing moment. Everyone bonds over food.”