Live From...the Stratosphere
Rick Doll

Name: Rick Doll

Position: Lead Telescope Operator

I am the Lead Telescope Operator on the KAO program. The primary function that I perform on the KAO is to set the coarse position of the telescope before each leg of a research flight. But the major responsibility of each flight is to fix any problems that may occur during the flight. Thereby assuring that the scientists get all the data that they possibly can.

When I am not flying I have many other responsibilities that include providing support to the scientists, trouble shooting and repair of electronics equipment, maintenance of all the electrical and mechanical systems associated with the telescope on the KAO. Support of the scientists entails many functions that include ensuring they have all the necessary cryogen and dry gases, that their equipment is safely installed on the KAO, they have tools to repair problems in their equipment if problems arise.

Prior to working on the KAO I spent eight years in the US Navy as a Fire Control Technician, an electronics technician who works on tracking radar system, involved with aerial targets (drones). After I left the Navy I went to work with Civil Services working on Full Scale Aerial Targets (FSATs). I continued working on FSATs under a Navy contract when I came to work with NSI in the Mojave Desert. That the contract ended in 1991, at which time I was transferred to our Sunnyvale office. Here I worked in the Safety office and provided System Administration for the local computer network. I was offered the job as a telescope operator in December of 1993 and I jumped at the chance, because one of my life long dreams was to have a job flying. The reason I was offered the position was because of my background in electronics.

The best part of this job was best stated by a friend of mine, "What you do is future, what everybody else does is present or past." Yet it is a little more complicated than that, I work with scientists who look at the past to better help us (humans) understand how the universe is constructed, thereby aiding us in knowing what is going to happen in the future.

The worst part of this job is the work hours, one week I work days and next week I work nights. The constant shifting between these two shifts takes a physical toll on the body, and without vacations I become drained of all energy and no amount of sleep seems to help get the energy back. Working days isn't that hard, but the night flights! The take off time of research flights is any time from 4:00 pm to 3:00 am in the morning. A typical research flight is seven and one half hours in length. Many times I have went home from work in the morning, when the rest of world is just going to work.

I wanted to work with radios during my childhood. I discovered one of the best opportunities for accomplishing this was to join the military, there I would be trained if I qualified. During my enlistment I learned that radio was really electronics. I could get additional training in more sophisticated electronics if I went into a field that had radar involved. Because of my understanding of math I was qualified to go into any electronics field that I chose.

As a kid I didn't do anything to prepare for my field, other han enjoy going on hikes and enjoying nature. I was raised in Montana and I would go to areas that other people had not been for months and sometimes years. I would find things that peeked my curiosity, then I would try to figure why something had happened. If I discovered I was wrong I would try to figure out where I had made an error in my decision making process and correct it. From this I developed a more logical mind, which is necessary in troubleshooting problems.

If anyone would like to go into the electronics field as a technician I would highly recommend that they study math and get a good understanding of computers. In addition find some problems that can be found a home or at play, try to figure what caused the problem, check your conclusions with someone who knows then if wrong find out where you made the error in your decision process. As a child I found this to be extremely fun and stimulating. I have always loved Science Fiction and this probably the major factor that influenced me to go into electronics.

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