Dan Johnston
Trajectory and Aerobraking Design Analyst
Global Surveyor Operations Project, Navigation Team
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Now as we approach the opening of our launch period on November 6, the focus of my work will change from mission designer to navigator. Following launch, the MGS spacecraft becomes the responsibility of the Mars Surveyor Operations Project (MSOP). As a member of the MSOP Navigation Team, I will be responsible for guiding the spacecraft to its final mapping orbit. This will involve updating the target parameters for the spacecraft trajectory when necessary, participating in the spacecraft maneuver design and orbit determination processes, and implementing (both strategically and tactically) our aerobraking operations plan at Mars.

Career Journey

I received my B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in May 1984. My elective concentration was in orbital mechanics. Following graduation, I went to work for the McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Company in Houston, Texas. There I worked on programs involving the Space Transportation System (space huttle) and the Strategic Defense Initiative. In January 1988, I returned to the The University of Texas to pursue graduate-level work in my technical discipline and I received my M.S. degree in Engineering in May 1989. Following graduate school, I decided to pursue career opportunities with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Initially at JPL I worked on several different missions involving Earth-orbiting spacecraft. Since 1991 my work has focused on missions to Mars, namely, Mars Observer and Mars Global Surveyor. My particular technical interests include advanced spacecraft mission analysis, spacecraft trajectory design (in particular, the spacecraft rendezvous problem) and spacecraft guidance systems.

Job Likes and Dislikes

I enjoy the variety of technical challenges my work provides me; sometimes I even enjoy the challenges of the schedule pressures under which we work. I view my work as more than just an "eight-to-five" job; it is something I feel very passionate about. I think it is very important to explore new worlds and open new frontiers, that's what planetary exploration is all about. It is also very rewarding to watch the spacecraft "materialize" from a paper proposal to a concrete (real live) space vehicle. It is further very rewarding to participate in the launch and flight of that spacecraft to its final destination, the fourth planet from the Sun.

I think that the difficult part of my job is the realization that the spacecraft we construct and launch are by no means perfect, yet we demand and expect perfection. Like many things in life, the aerospace industry is a dynamic environment and there is often uncertainty in what we do.

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