Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.
Mars Pathfinder Test Director
Currently on assignment at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida
What I Do
I work for the Mars Pathfinder project. This is an unmanned spacecraft that will be launched December 2, 1996 and will land July 4, 1997. It contains a camera to survey the landing site, a weather station to record temperatures and atmospheric pressures, and a rover. The rover is a small remote-controlled vehicle that will drive around and analyze rocks and soil.
My job as test director involves leading a team that tests the spacecraft to make sure everything works. The first step is to learn what the spacecraft can do and what the scientists and engineers want it to do. This is a little easier for me because I was one of the engineers who helped design it. In order to make sure everything gets tested, I have made a list of every function the spacecraft performs. I then take these functions and allocate them to specific tests.
The second step is to write test procedures. These procedures contain the steps necessary to make the spacecraft perform a certain activity and the things we need to look for in order to make sure it is performing correctly.
The third step is to actually run the test. This is the most exciting part because the spacecraft never seems to behave exactly as expected. When you find something unexpected, you have to respond quickly--is it a problem you can work around or is it something dangerous enough to call off the test. We are dealing with equipment that costs millions of dollars so we have to be very careful in what we are doing. On the other hand, launch is scheduled for December so we don't have as much time as we'd like to get all the testing done. If we don't make the December launch, we will have to wait over a year and a half before Mars and Earth line up again to allow us to launch (and there isn't enough money to pay people to wait around that long!).
The last step is go back to the design engineers to tell them what we learned from the test and what they have to fix in order to make everything work. Finally, we run the test again and again until everything works as expected.
All of the testing has been completed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., where Mars Pathfinder was built. It is now at Kennedy Space Center in Florida being prepared for launch. We had to disassemble the spacecraft in order to install fresh batteries, pyrotechnic devices, and radioactive curium in one of the science instruments. We are now rebuilding the spacecraft and my job is to test it at every step along the way to make sure that every component is still working.
Pathfinder will be mounted on a Delta II rocket in November. We will then watch data from the spacecraft during the launch countdown. One of the best parts about my job is that I get to be the one to tell the launch director that the spacecraft is "Go for Launch!"
I grew up in Denver, Colorado and got a B.S degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado (Go Buffs!). I have been working at JPL since 1986 when I got out of school. I went to night school while working at JPL and got a M.S. degree in Engineering from the University of Southern California.
I am 32 years old and live in La Crescenta California, which is about 10 miles away from Pasadena. Since I'm from Colorado, I'm into skiing. There is nothing like bouncing down a mogul field with a foot of fresh Colorado powder. Since I live in Southern California, I also play a lot of volleyball (both beach and indoor). I live by myself in a small house where I have done several home improvement projects. The last one was remodeling a bathroom, which would have been a lot easier if it wasn't the only one in the whole house.
When I was in second grade I wanted to be an astronaut. I probably got the idea from watching the Apollo missions on television. I started reading science fiction about then and have been fascinated with space and the future ever since. I was fairly good at math and science, although I was never a straight A student. I got interested in engineering because my best friend in high school was going into it and I didn't have a better choice. It turned out to be the right choice for me because I like to solve problems, which is what engineers do. Whether it is solving a crossword puzzle, figuring out a riddle, or working out how to locate Earth when Pathfinder is sitting on the surface of Mars, I get a lot of satisfaction when I find the answer.
What I Like About My Job
Besides getting paid for work I consider fun, the best part about my job is knowing that future generations will read about the explorations of a spacecraft that I helped to build.