Weathers brothers help NASA return to the moon

Starkville natives Jeff and Jim Weathers hold five degrees from Mississippi State and serve as one another’s biggest support system. Throughout their lives, they’ve used each other as a sounding board for ideas, helping navigate complex engineering issues encountered as both students and professionals. After more than 25 combined years at Boeing, management now calls on them—usually as a package deal—to resolve engineering issues throughout the entire company’s ecosystem.

“They don’t really differentiate between Jim and Jeff,” Jim Weathers said. “We’ll get an email that has us both copied on it saying, ‘Hey, can we get the Weathers brothers to help us out with this?’”

“Sometimes it’s a missile or a rocket, or it could be an airplane, space vehicle or satellite,” Jeff Weathers added. “If you told me years ago that I would be able to put my stamp on things ranging from ballistic missiles to a spaceplane or the biggest rocket ever built, I would have said you were crazy.”

Both brothers are members of Boeing’s Technical Fellowship, which represents the top 3% of the company’s technical and scientific community. In addition to providing technical support within the company, as fellows, they also mentor young engineers coming up through the Boeing ranks.

“I think the opportunity to teach younger analysts and engineers—to mentor and help them in their careers—has been a wonderful experience,” Jim Weathers said. “Seeing them flourish and do better is probably the best part of my job.”

Mentoring future Bulldog engineers, both brothers said, holds a special place in their hearts. The siblings have returned to Starkville numerous times for company outreach efforts and guest lectures. They even led a senior design project for five MSU mechanical engineering students and toured them throughout NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the nearby Boeing campus.

“Those students were a lot like I was when I was an undergraduate. Witnessing them seeing some of the biggest rocket test stands ever constructed and experiencing what opportunities await them after college—that really gets me excited about getting more involved with mentoring Mississippi State students,” Jeff Weathers said. “What motivates me the most right now is collecting all of the things I’ve learned and distributing them to the people who are going to replace me when it’s time for me to enjoy my retirement.”

Aside from troubleshooting and mentoring, the Weathers brothers’ biggest claim to fame is their work for Boeing on NASA’s Artemis program—the space agency’s plan to reestablish America’s presence on the moon for the first time since the Apollo missions of the 1960s and ’70s. For more than a decade, they worked as structural analysist leads on the Space Launch System—the large, heavy-lift rocket NASA will use as the workhorse for the Artemis program.
Now, the brothers are supporting the development of the SLS Exploration Upper Stage—a four-engine upper stage facilitating missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

“The Exploration Upper Stage is one of the coolest things I’ve ever worked on,” Jeff Weathers said. “A lot of that hardware has been developed and analyzed by us. To go from a blank slate to what it is now—that’s the most amazing opportunity we’ll ever get in our careers.”

“And development of the largest rocket that’s ever existed is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, too,” Jim Weathers added. “Analysts and designers in our field can go their whole careers without having any kind of opportunity like that. The fact that we were lucky enough to be leads on that program—it’s crazy.”

For their efforts, NASA awarded the brothers the prestigious Silver Snoopy sterling silver lapel pin, which is given to employees and contractors who have significantly contributed to the space flight program in ensuring both safety and success. Less than 1% of NASA’s workers or contractors receive the annual award.

Both Jim and Jeff attribute their professional successes to their upbringing in academics and university life. The sons of MSU retirees, the brothers were plugged in to higher education from an early age. Engineering wasn’t either brother’s first choice of a major—Jim Weathers started his undergraduate career majoring in turfgrass management, while Jeff Weathers planned to graduate with a degree in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture—but both said the math and science came naturally to them.

“That lasted about a semester because we realized it was more fun to us than anything and we probably ought to consider using our talents to make a living,” Jeff Weathers said. “We didn’t coordinate going into mechanical engineering; we just came to the same conclusion simultaneously.”

“We’ve always been tinkerers—taking things apart just to see how they work and putting them back together again,” Jim Weathers continued. “Choosing engineering just made sense.”

Using each other as points of support and collaboration—and sometimes as competitive motivation—gave them a unique path through their collegiate careers. Eventually, both earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MSU. Jim would also earn a doctoral degree from the university, while Jeff Weathers followed a favorite research professor to the University of Alabama, where he earned a doctorate.

“Being at MSU really provided the foundation for us to believe that we could go out and change the world. We had great people who showed us that there’s nothing stopping us as long as we have our education. We graduated with all the tools we needed to go out and do what we wanted,” Jim Weathers said.

“We realized that if we worked hard enough and if we tried to make a big enough impact, we could do whatever we wanted. We could write our own ticket,” he continued. “The journey has been a blast.”

Story by Carl Smith, Photo by Grace Cockrell

Paving the way for new opportunities

When Jim and Jeff Weathers speak of their childhoods in Starkville, they paint a picture of an idyllic, small-town life centered around the Mississippi State campus.

The children of MSU employees, they specifically recalled afternoons at the campus pool in the “Tin Gym” while their mother worked in nearby Dorman Hall.

Since then, that sector of campus has experienced many big changes, including the demolition of buildings to make way for new buildings and features to take Mississippi State into the future.

The latest change saw the demolition of the McCarthy Gym in 2022 to allow for the construction of the Duff Center, a centralized home for the university’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic, Disability Resource Center and Department of Kinesiology.

Named for Jim and Tommy Duff, who gave the cornerstone gift of $15 million for the new construction, the center will be a resource for Mississippi children and families. The 100,000-square-foot facility will boast state-of-the-art offices, classrooms and laboratories to enable hands-on training for students and provide programs to aid those with physical and developmental disabilities—allowing those families and students to make their own precocious memories with the help of MSU.