Christopher Salvo
Flight Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

My Current Job

I am a systems engineer on the Mars Pathfinder Project. "Systems engineer" is a generic term for an engineer who works on problems at the "overall" level (like the whole spacecraft system) as opposed to a more specialized subsystem level (like the propulsion subsystem). My expertise is in unmanned spacecraft system development and implementation. To that end, I am always trying to learn as much as I can about all aspects of space mission design, implementation, and operation. Specifically on Mars Pathfinder, I am called the flight system operability engineer, which means that I am involved in determining how the spacecraft is going to be operated. All during the design phase (which took about three years) I and others have been asking a number of questions about the spacecraft that we were designing. What can we do with it? How do we make it do what we want? What will it do when we don't tell it what to do? How will we know what it is doing? Thinking about what it would be like to operate the spacecraft has helped us all to design a spacecraft that is easy to operate.

As we get closer to launch, my position is expanding as I am becoming one of the flight engineers. This means that I will be operating the spacecraft; telling it what to do and looking at the telemetry that it sends back to determine what it is actually doing in response. I will also be looking for indications of any faults that may occur (if something breaks or doesn't operate as expected). There are about eight flight engineers, and we will take turns being in charge of the various activities through the mission. We are teamed in this task with several other subsystem engineers, each with their own specialty. There are some who are experts in power subsystems, some who know about propulsion subsystems, others who work on spacecraft attitude control. Most of the time, some or all of the other engineers will be monitoring the spacecraft at the same time as I am. Some of the time, especially when we are monitoring the spacecraft late at night, I will be the only one watching what the spacecraft is doing.

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