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Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft

Rich Rieber

Rich Rieber

Testbed Manager, Activity Lead, and Flight Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Rich Rieber

What's the coolest thing about EPOXI?
The coolest part of EPOXI is we are reusing a spacecraft to perform science that the spacecraft was never designed for and doing it all on a tight budget. The flight team is quite small and everyone has to be a jack-of-all-trades and understand all aspects of the spacecraft and ground systems.

Why do you like working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory?
JPL is a great place to work. We are flying 19 spacecraft with several other spacecraft in development. There is always something exciting happening here. The work is always cutting edge and we are always going where no one has gone before. I'm also surrounded by the world's best spacecraft scientists and engineers.

What is your job on the EPOXI mission?
I have several roles on EPOXI. I was originally hired to run the testbeds. This entails executing tests on every command and sequence before they are sent to the spacecraft. The testbed consists of several computers that simulate both the hardware on spacecraft and "the universe" that interface with the flight computers. I have to ensure that every command and sequence is going to do what it was designed to do and make sure that nothing bad will happen to the spacecraft from these commands.

I'm also an Activity Lead and Flight Director. I'm responsible for designing and writing commands and sequences to perform various activities on the spacecraft. As the Flight Director, I sit on console and send these commands to the spacecraft and monitor the telemetry we get back. Basically, I get to fly the spacecraft.

How did you end up in Space Science?
I was diagnosed at a young age with "the knack," an extreme intuition for all things mechanical and electrical. My life revolved around my Legos and the various things that I could build with them. I then came to understand the limitations of Legos, and one disassembled vacuum cleaner later, I ended up at Space Camp. Space Camp essentially created and solidified my desire to work in the aerospace field.

Rich Rieber

What do you do in your spare time?
Anything related to the outdoors: Hiking, camping, backpacking, and especially rock climbing. When I'm not outside, I'm in my garage building furniture and working on my car.

Who in your life inspired you?
I had two physics teachers in high school, Mrs. Leonhardt and Dr. Brix. They both provided me the reason why math was so useful. Mrs. Leonhardt also gave us a lab to design a bottle rocket out of a 2-liter soda bottle. That was one of my first experiences in "rocket science" and I loved it! My dad also was a huge inspiration. He taught me not to be afraid of a little (or a lot of) hard work.

What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
Become an astronaut.

Were you science-oriented as a young person?
I rather enjoyed math, science, and shop class in high school. The combination of those three made me destined for engineering. Biology and physics were my favorites.

What was your favorite book as a young person?
When I was young (which wasn't too long ago), I read a lot of mysteries, fantasy, and sci-fi books. Homer Price and Rick Brant were some great ones. I read so many books it's difficult to choose a favorite. But, since I'm forced to choose, I'd have to say Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's a story of a boy sent to space and given military training to defend the world from space aliens known as "the buggers."

What did you want to become when you were young?
Initially I wanted to be an architect. Then I realized I had no real artistic skills that are required for architecture and frequently bounced between an astronomer, an astronaut, and a doctor.

If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
I'd be either working in emergency response or working as an outdoor guide.