Al Vernacchio

I'm Albert Vernacchio an Aerospace Engineer at the Goddard Space Flight Center. My current position is HST Ground/Operations Systems Engineering Manager. In this role I carry out a number of various tasks mostly related to the HST Servicing Missions. My main role is to serve as Systems Engineering and Verification Manager.

For the HST ground operations systems and onboard computer software, I make sure the requirements placed on the systems to support servicing missions are correct, understood and properly implemented. For example, in the upcoming servicing mission we will be installing a new technology (for HST) solid state data recorder. My job is to make sure we are able to properly checkout, and use this recorder when it is installed. I define the changes to existing systems and software and any new systems or software needed to support the mission. I ensure that the systems and software are integrated (put together) at the right time to support mission preparations. I also lead a team of engineers who run tests on the ground with the new equipment to fully checkout the new systems and software.

It's a very challenging position that gives me exposure to many different aspects of space missions including system specifications, hardware and software development, system integration and test, in-orbit installation, checkout and operations.

I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pa and a Masters of Engineering Management from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I came to NASA just after graduating from college and began my career developing test systems to support the development of software for spacecraft computers. I then went on to develop software for the flight computer on HST. I worked my way into being the team lead for the team that develops software for HST flight computer prior to moving on to my current role in project management.

Another challenging part of my job is managing the teams called into action when problems occur during the servicing mission. They are called anomaly (problem) response teams. This calls for understanding all telescope systems and making sure all of the experts are called on to help diagnose the problems. We hope to be very bored during the mission but if called on we'll be prepared.

I really enjoy my career at NASA. It's incredibly exciting working on space missions. The challenges are very motivating and the payoff is great when you can say you've been a part of man's exploration of the universe and helped mankind gain an understanding of things that would not be possible without your work.

Honestly I didn't know specifically what I wanted to do as a career other than programming and working with computers (which is pretty broad). I was first exposed to computers in high school and decided then that I wanted to work with them. So I went to college and learned all I could about computers and computer programming. When I was about to graduate I was recruited by NASA and I never looked back. After going to work for NASA I continued to take classes to supplement my knowledge and oriented specifically to my work at NASA. NASA was very supportive of this and provides many opportunities to continue education.

In general, the best thing about my job is knowing that the work that we do helps to improve the quality of life for everyone. Every year I get a NASA publication called Spinoff which reports on all of the every day things that have resulted from research done by NASA. We frequently see astonishing pictures from HST which show things man has never seen before.

More specific to me, the best thing about my current job is that it allows me to work in all aspects of space missions as I mentioned before. In my previous job at NASA I first programmed, then led a team of programmers who programmed HST's onboard control computer. This job was very focused and technically challenging. However I didn't get much exposure to all of the other aspects of space missions like hardware development, operations, ground systems, shuttle operations, etc. My goal is to one day manage spacecraft projects and this job is helping gain the necessary broad experiences.

What I like least about my job is the fact that we're being forced to do more with less. This is a challenge but its also frustrating to me since I'm very conservative and like to test as much as I possibly can. Given resource cuts we have to make tradeoffs which usually result in less capability and long hours.

I also don't like the fact that there are so many organizations within and outside NASA competing for the same jobs and money. I would like to see clear scientific leadership from the top that isn't driven by politics. Leadership that defines national goals and the most effective way to use our nation's resources to achieve those goals. The space program may depend on us all working together as a team to be successful.

To prepare for a job in this field its important to be trained in electronics, engineering and computers. Its also important to understand physics and basic sciences if you want to be involved in spacecraft systems development and operations.

The three most influential people in my life were my mother, father and my high school math teacher. My mother was always there for me no matter what. She supported me in whatever I wanted to do. My father taught me the value of hard work and perseverance. He also didn't let me forgo college in favor of getting a job out of high school. He insisted I go to college and develop myself further. My high school math teacher helped me see that I could achieve in the field of computer science.

On the personal side, I'm married and have a three year old son who keeps me and my wife busy. He is having a great time learning lots of new things and I'm very happy to be part of it. I enjoy weight lifting and rock and roll music. This is my favorite time of year. The weather is getting warm, March Madness is here, the hockey playoffs are approaching and softball season is about to start. I love sports. My favorite sport to watch is hockey. I play basketball and softball. I also enjoy surfing the world wide web and programming.

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