Systems Engineering Manager
What kind of work do you do as "Systems Engineering Manager"?
As Systems Engineering Manager, I dabble in all of Satellite Servicing's activities, working with an extremely diverse group of people and disciplines to help design and manage our complex engineering systems. A Systems Engineer's key role is coordination of different teams to ensure the key aspects of a project are considered and implemented into a coherent whole. I also serve as a bridge between Project Management and the engineering team at large, capturing requirements of a system, documenting design decisions, developing system test approaches, and generally using logical thinking to help make the overall system work.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Every day presents a new challenge, be it technical, financial, political, or personal. I learn something new every day, am challenged every day, and every now and then I help solve a major problem. My favorite problems are the ones that span the technical and programmatic disciplines - I've learned that a talented, diverse team of engineers can accomplish almost anything, and far more quickly than even they would believe possible. I hope I can continue to work on exciting, challenging, and fast paced efforts like the ones SSCO has initiated.
What first interested you in working for NASA?
I've been fascinated by space since I was a kid watching shooting stars and satellites in the clear South Dakota summer sky. As a young engineering student I thought the most exciting work was happening in space, and very much enjoyed to subjects of physics, statics, dynamics, and eventually astrodynamics and spacecraft design. I decided to earn a Master's degree in Aerospace engineering, and worked with some great engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center on my Master's Thesis.
Where did you go to college, and what degrees did you receive?
I earned both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA.
How did your education prepare you for your work at NASA?
As an engineer and problem solver, a solid understanding of the basic principles of math and science is crucial - the toolbox I use every day to explore a problem and build the intuition needed to chart a solution. "Basic principles" are those things that you learn, and usually fail to recognize their importance while you are learning them. So the other key aspect of my education was undergraduate and master's thesis research, which taught me the discipline to tackle problems so large they often take months to solve. I learned to face these huge challenges by turning them into a series of small problems, and tackling them one at a time.
What made you want to work in satellite servicing, and what interests you the most about it?
In college, and the first few years of my time at NASA I focused on the design, determination, and control of the relative motion of space vehicles for applications such as spacecraft formation flying - a concept for creating large synthetic telescope by flying science satellites in close formation. After the Columbia accident and temporary grounding of Space Shuttle, NASA started working a concept to robotically service the Hubble Space Telescope. I became involved in the concept for autonomous rendezvous and capture of the Hubble at that time. When Shuttle completed its safe return to flight, and the fourth Hubble servicing mission was re-instated as a crewed mission, I was fortunate to stay on a be a part of that historic mission. I think the Hubble servicing missions are some of the most important and awe-inspiring things ever done by human kind in space (did you know that the farthest humans have been since returning from the moon is Hubble?), and I believe in a future where valuable space assets can be refueling, repaired, and repurposed just like every other highly valuable vehicle the government and industry produce.
How long have you been at NASA?