Live From...the Stratosphere
Robert Yee Biography


Name: Robert Yee

Position: SOFIA Operation Manager

I am Robert Yee the Operations manager for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) which is the successor to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). SOFIA will begin operations sometime in the year 2000! That may seem like a log way off for some of you, but my job is full of meetings to coordinate all the technical experiments and activities getting ready for the 2.5 meter (100-in) telescope that will be aboard the SOFIA Boeing 747. In the meantime, I spend a great deal of time in the laboratory before I fly experiments aboard the KAO. I am the one that came up with the proposal of broadcasting video from the KAO to classrooms. I am now involved with designing and providing equipment to support this telecast. We hope to conduct the same kind of educational opportunities with SOFIA as we have with the KAO.

The best thing about my job is the broad and varied assignments I experience. In the past, I have worked with experimental aircraft and the space station. To prepare for operating SOFIA, I am being sent to United Airlines to learn how to operate a Boeing 747 aircraft one week, while the next week I might be going to classes to learn about Local Area Networks (LAN). I am constantly challenged to learn new things. Soon, NASA will send me to the Australian bush to conduct experiments with Aussie scientists. There are not too many jobs with that diversity of experience and sense of adventure. The only drawback to my job is the paperwork I have to do. But if you ask your teacher or one of your parents, I'm sure you will find that paperwork is a drawback to many jobs. It took a great deal of paperwork to write the proposal for the ' Live From the Stratosphere" and it will take an even greater deal to eventually fly it. But the job is extremely rewarding most of the time, and always challenging.

I prepared for my job by seeking out the broadest experience possible while in college. I did not enroll in Aerospace Engineering because I felt it was too constraining. Instead I majored in Physics to get the broadest technical background possible. I later went to graduate school and obtained a Masters in Electrical Engineering. With all these math and engineering courses I had confidence to tackle any technical job NASA assigned to me. I always knew I wanted to work for NASA. I have been a science fiction fan as long as I can remember and was heavily influenced by science fiction novels and the original Star Trek series.

NASA was looking for newly graduated engineers with aircraft experience. I fell into that category. I worked for the forestry service during the summers as a fire fighter stationed in Alaska. My job was to put out forest fires throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, and Alaska. As it turns out, my fire fighting experience was what interested NASA. During the course of my fire fighting, I spend a great deal of time with airborne fire fighting equipment and aircraft. If I had spent my summers working for a silicon valley firm, I would have never had the experience NASA was looking for.

Although I never really had a mentor for my field, my graduate advisor at Stanford gave me some advise I have never forgotten. He advised me to avoid working in aerospace and for the government. Well, I now work for NASA in the aerospace field. I am glad I didn't take his advice because I love what I am doing and there are times I wonder why I am being paid for having so much fun.

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