Science Data Center Manager, Cornell
What's the coolest thing about EPOXI?
That it is robotic and semi-autonomous. The software and hardware on the spacecraft, as well as the commands sent to the spacecraft, have to be very robust or the mission could end in an instant with no hope of recovery.
I think it was very forward-thinking of NASA to come up with the Discovery Program and accept higher levels of risk to fly more missions. Inevitably a few missions would fail, while others, such as Deep Impact and Stardust, have gone beyond success in their prime missions to support extended missions and return more science through the efforts of the Mission Operations (MOPS) personnel.
MOPS employ layers of checks and double checks and triple checks to ensure that any command they radiate to the spacecraft does not jeopardize the mission, they function within immovable deadlines set by laws of physics and orbital mechanics, and they have almost no margin for error. That is probably some of the most intense engineering going on in the world.
Why do you like working at Cornell?
Because of the people - Cornellians are almost universally excited about their jobs and strive to do the best they can to help whatever project they are working on.
What is your job on the EPOXI mission?
I maintain the hardware and software of the Science Data Center (SDC). The SDC comprises several computers that receive raw data files from the spacecraft Ground Data System (GDS) and convert them to formats useable by scientists.
How did you end up in Space Science?
It's a long story, as I am a chemical engineer by training. The short version is that my predecessor was leaving Cornell and found my resume on file. My Chemical Engineering career had progressed to the point where I was mostly involved in computer-based process simulation, instrumentation and control. I was well suited to the work, and Professor Joe Veverka graciously hired me to work on the Galileo mission.
What do you do in your spare time?
What is spare time?
Get beat by Jessica (my wife) in our daily Sudoku races; watch old movies; go hiking or sailing.
Who in your life inspired you?
Jessica, for her discipline in her music, her faith and indeed all of her life.
Phil (my brother), for his way of breaking tasks down to simple parts and identifying and focusing on the important aspects of any task, and for not beating up on his annoying little brother.
My parents: for loving, teaching, encouraging and helping us to pursue our interests. Mom for her organization, service to others, humor, and the many friends she brought, and still brings, into the home. Dad for teaching us how fun and rewarding it can be to simply understand something.
What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
Clear enough time to achieve a life goal!
Several are tied at the top of the list: fix everything in the house; learn to ride a unicycle; learn to play a musical instrument.
Were you science-oriented as a young person?
Yes. I've always been good with numbers and math. Although I don't remember it, my father says he helped me measure and plot plate characteristics of vacuum tubes when I was nine years old.
What was your favorite book as a young person?
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs along with the rest of the 20+ volume Tarzan series. Tarzan was a superhero of his time, honorable, strong and intelligent, very loyal to his family, friends and partly domesticated pets, and bad news to those who pursued evil.
Since young adulthood I have always been fascinated by opening a dictionary or encyclopedia to a random page, or perusing the units conversion table in the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (ca late 1970s). Do you know the number of cubic inches in a (U.S.) Gallon, and the three prime factors of that number from which you could make a 1-gallon box with just a ruler? Did you know an Imperial Gallon is defined as the volume of ten pounds of water at 62 degree Fahrenheit?
What did you want to become when you were young?
If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
Writing software to interface computers to anything else (other computers, electronic devices, people).