Friday, December 11, 2009

The Range Is Not All About Shuttle

It has taken a nose dive into the expendable launch vehicle world for me to see that the world of rocketry does not revolve around the space shuttle. Shuttle is the most visible, but Atlas and Delta are the work horses of the US space program.

When the range was booked with an Atlas V launch, Shuttle, and then a Delta IV launch all within four days. Delta held its own until it slipped even though it had been asked to move previously. When Atlas scrubbed the sense I got from the news, and social media was that Atlas should have yielded to the range to shuttle, stood down, allowed shuttle to launch, and then made their attempt. It shouldn't have even made that first attempt.

Excuse me?

Atlas had the range before shuttle, they were ready to fly. Delta also should not have been asked to move. They had the range before shuttle. Yet there was an outcry that both should have moved.

This leaves me confused. Yes, manned programs may be the most visible programs from the public but the other programs are just as valuable. Look at the history of the manned space flight program and there is Atlas right at the start. The rovers wouldn't be on Mars without the Delta program. Unmanned flight has allowed us to explore further than the Moon and LEO. An Atlas V sent a probe to Pluto where we cannot dream of sending humans at the moment; Delta launched Kepler which is searching for more Earth-like planets.

I have nothing against the manned space flight program (it got me into science in the first place, and I will be eternally thankful for that); I just challenge everyone who holds it as the pinnacle of the industry to look further. Do not hold the manned program above the unmanned programs. Both have made their contributions and created inspiration. Shuttle cannot keep up with the launch rate of the unmanned programs, but the unmanned programs do not have the human exploration element.

I will now jump off my soap box.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ares I-X

Ares I-X went off over a week ago and it marked a good day in the lab despite a nasty snow storm outside.

It went off on its second attempt after being foiled by ships, triboelectrification (that brings back memories from NASA's spaceflight hardware handling certification class), and a cover protecting sensors on the top of the vehicle. The guys supporting the launch on our side had been in since 11 pm for two nights in a row so things were pretty goofy when we actually launched around 9:30 am.

Ares I-X was based on Atlas hardware so my lab supported the launch and is doing some data processing. I'm not sure to what extent we're doing things since I'm knee deep in preparing for WGS SV-3 and WISE.

When the launch went off everyone in my lab gathered around our TVs with 9 feeds on each of them to watch it with the com system screaming in the background tuned to the main nets. We all wanted to witness the little bit of history that was being made no matter which way it went.

It was that day that I learned that despite being called "girly girl" and being the only girl in the lab, I have become a part of the lab. The guys take great pride in playing jokes on each other and I walked in that day to find one pulled on me. My space heater was hidden away in its drawer like it is every night when I left the night before. If you know my lab, the heater is a requisite since the lab hovers around 62 deg F all the time due to the servers and other equipment we have. I walked in that morning to find my heater replaced by the box it came in. The heater was missing. Let me refer to Sayings of Mark Chapter 1, to explain how the other two people with heaters in my organization and I feel about our heaters: "Never get between a woman and her heater" . I walked out of my cube with my empty box slightly annoyed to find Roger and Mark laughing like crazy waiting for me to discover my missing heater. The initial blame went to Roger who is always up to something. This left Mark with an evil grin still laughing. His only response was "Girly, are you sure it's missing?"

I go back to my cube, still without a heater. I finally look at shelves that are above my head (so clearly there is nothing on there since I cannot reach it) and find the heater.

I did get a good laugh out of it. Putting something right where I can see it but never think to look is brilliant.

With the first prank, I think I fit into the lab and no longer intimate the guys. Early on I was told I was intimidating since I was the first female the lab had ever had. They just didn't know how to deal with me. Clearly they are at least learning how to deal with me if they haven't fully figured it out already.

The next month may be a little crazy since we have two launches close together, but hopefully they will not seek holidays as launches have in the past. I know at least one of them is one where I wish I could sleep shift.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Somehow I Get Paid To Do This

Photo Credit: ULA

Today I supported my second launch, Worldview-2 off SLC-2w at 281:18:51:00. And with it I realized things are really settling into place. I handled most of the processing myself, with only a glitch in creating archives thanks to the calibration files.

Work is still going really well. The lab is shaping up to be a great group of guys, and we always manage to have a good time, even if it is 6 am and we've been at work since 1 am. I'm learning how to wrestle patch panels, play back 12'' analog tapes, and deal with data recording. My lab lead has taught me all this in a very Olin style of spiral learning. The second I figure out what I'm doing in one area of the data station I'm tossed into the next. I have a feeling I'll soon be dealing with the decommutators for our live data streams. I am thankful I learned how to swim in the deep end early on in life since panic has been minimal at each new turn.

I'm meeting with Ben over lunch on Monday since despite settling in to work, I still need the best outside voice I have found. After STSS Demo Ben sent a surprise "Congratulations" email which was one of the best congratulations I got. He has also been an amazing amount of help with the move and my general, "so I'm now living in Colorado, how do I?" questions. I still cannot believe it has been over two years since I first met him. I am amazingly lucky to have such an awesome mentor in my life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

This is why my job is awesome

This morning was my first launch, STSS Demo launched on a Delta II out of CCAFS on SLC-17B at 268:12:20:00 GMT.

Even though I got into work at 12:30 am and left around 9 am, with little sleep beforehand, it was an amazing experience to be apart of a launch team. I reported to work an hour before the DLSC call to station and began processing data soon after. All of the live data was released today with bundles of data to be processed in the coming weeks. Worldview is also quickly approaching followed quickly by WGS-3.

Go Delta II and STSS Demo! You never forget your first!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Starting Again

And so my Colorado adventure has begun. I am currently three weeks into my new job, and sitting in my new apartment.

I think I also may have one of the coolest jobs ever. I am currently the Delta Data Processor. If data comes off that rocket, I have my hands on it. I live for that data. It means I am deeply involved in launches, tests, and telemetry in general. I have a great group of guys I work with and things are so far going well.

I'm learning that new jobs are a lot of do-learn and figuring things out, but even if there are the roller coaster days, things have a positive slope. I've been dumped in the middle of processing data for GPSIIR-21 and was releasing files my second week on the job. This week I was preparing for the STSS-Demo launch targeted for the 18th. I have my days where I feel like I can handle things, and others where I feel like a complete idiot.

The scariest part of this experience has not been the job, but the move. I happily have Jackie by my side which has made this a little less harrowing, but turning my life upside down, leaving friends behind in Boston, family in Dallas, and starting a new job all at once is a lot to process at once. Thankfully I've had a two people who have been there for me the whole time, one at work, and one outside of work.

I'm excited to work launches and continue on this adventure. This may not have been the job I originally saw myself doing but I think things have worked out for the best. This is a great place to start and learn everything about a vehicle and its systems.

Now, if only I could find a couch that matches the dog.....

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Best Week Ever

Two weeks ago was one of the most exciting weeks I can remember. I really hope I will never forget it.

As mentioned previously, I was given passes to the STS-127 Launch so I was out in Florida attempting to catch the launch after an 18 hour road trip. The launch had been scrubbed Saturday early on in the day which gave us a day on the beach; Sunday the launch was scrubbed at the T - 9 hold due to weather violations. On Sunday we had made it as far as getting on the buses and making it out to the launch viewing area before it scrubbed.

Sunday also begins the best week ever. The company who was putting the buses together originally had three of them going, the one we were on broke down. There were 14 seats left on the other buses. Some how we got some of those seats. I do not ask how.

After the scrub we came back and spent the evening touring UCF and meeting characters such as Beth Lathe, known for destroying the SEDS-UCF Space Plinko Board. It was weird being at a big school but at the same time I think I'm ready to try one for graduate school. Olin was a great size for me for undergrad, but it is time to move on to something bigger.

Monday brought us another scrub, but a day of fun. We spent the day in Cocoa Beach starting with Starbucks which is where I first heard the rumors of upcoming good news. Keri and I started acting like the crazy people we were in the middle of Starbucks which likely made all of Cocoa Beach think we're crazy. Oh well.

We hit up the Dinosaur Museum across the street for silly fun which was aimed at four year olds, but awesome none the less. After that we headed out to the Cape for another launch attempt. Keri and I were caught by the person in charge of the bus singing Journey at the top of our lungs in the parking lot so she likely has the idea that we're slightly nuts, but I'm ok with that.

The launch attempt scrubed at the T-9 min hold once again after it looked so promising earlier in the day. It was a 48 hour scrub and after our trip we knew we wanted to stick it out. Neither of us had to be home before Friday.

Tuesday we headed to Downtown Disney and saw the Lego Store, a Disney store that required a map, and more. It was also Tuesday when I finally received the job offer of my dreams.

I've been working hard to chase down a job in the space industry since September and I finally did it. I've been rejected countless times after to applying to an unknown number of jobs. I've been to both coasts and the center part of the country. I've been called technically incompetent and also been told I was going to take over the place. People have told me they have fears about me failing, since I don't fail. (Oh really?). But I never landed that perfect job. I've continually been the second choice candidate. I found two jobs in the Northeast which is an area I love but feel that I need to try something new for a while. Both of them were defense jobs, and mostly involved programing. The third job was also a defense job, working on missile production in an area of the country I'm afraid I'd melt in. Closer to right, but still not quite there.

Finally, this job came in at the last second (I was about to sign the third offer) and was everything I wanted. It is a job working on rocket avionics in a city I want to live in. Needless to say I'm happy.

Wednesday was what we came for. Our third time out to the cape was the charm. Watching a shuttle launch was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Words will never be able to do justice to it. If I there is a way to get paid to sit out and watch launches all day, I need to find out how.

After seeing a launch in person watching them on NASA TV will look tame. I was 3.3 miles away from the most beautiful thing in the world. I really have to say watching a space shuttle launch ranks above graduating from college. A mentor just gave me the best graduation gift ever. Ben sent an email after the launch that simply said "HOW ABOUT THAT, your graduation present.................." Yeah, that about sums it up.

Getting both job of my dreams and a shuttle launch in 24 hours is something I still cannot believe happened.

We began our drive back home Wednesday night after a stop at Dairy Queen. On our drive out of Florida we ran into two gas station heists. You normally only see those on TV but from the comfort of the car we got to witness the police surrounding two gas stations, and a life flight helicopter landing on the high way. We were also able to witness a super cell descending on Orlando. A fairly exciting night.

Thrusday we completed the drive home with minimal stops. Louisiana still ranks as a scary place I hope to never have to live.

Friday was the day I signed my job offer, completing an amazing week.

I still cannot believe I landed the job of my dreams and will be working on rockets. I guess it proves that a little persistence and a lot of luck pays off. Ad Astra.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Today I received a gift that I cannot even begin to say thank you enough for, passes to the STS-127 launch on July 11th. I was given these by a mentor who has been in my life since my junior year at Olin.

This opportunity made me step back and look at how things have changed in the past few years and how much I have learned from Ben. Before this relationship started I never realized the value of having someone around who is completely detached from the situation you are in. I've always had people around who I can ask for help since they've been there before me, but they've always been closely involved. Ben was completely detached. He was half a country away physically, and worlds away otherwise. The value of this became evident when my life needed to be put into perspective. What seemed to me like a big hurdle was small when put into perspective. The job search always seemed like a huge hurdle, but he helped break it down into small bits, showed me how to put the big picture together, and win at the game.

I also see how much I've grown up in two years. I am now a slightly more confident version of who I was then. Part of that was that I kept getting dusted off every time I feel flat on my face, be it failing a test or making an idiot of myself. Last summer's rough spot was met with a lot of "keep going"s along with the knowledge that I always had someone pulling for me. I am very changed from that experience. I cannot thank him and everyone else who pulled me through last summer enough since they kept me in engineering.

Finding a mentor is likely one of the best things that happened to me while I was at Olin. My butt has been kicked when it needed to be. There is a memorable moment when a proofread version of my cover letter came back looking like someone had bleed on it. It needed it. Currently my job interviewing skills are under fire, but again, they need to be fixed. I'm currently not doing well on interviews since I am trying so hard I panic.

Finding a mentor has also allowed me to see my situation from a different perspective and take advice form someone who has experience in a field that I am still attempting to get started in. I have also been able gain exposure to a lot of sides of engineering since I'm the EE who may not exactly be normal.

I had the chance to talk with Ben in early June while he was in between meetings and I had just completed a job interview. I'm fairly certain I will never forget that experience. We have the exact same sense of humor which is dangerous in large doses.

There are never enough ways to say thank you to a good mentor since they can be everything from someone who picks you back up when you fall flat on your face, a guide when you're lost in the woods, a wise elder with answers when you need them most, to even a friend. I'm counting my blessings that I have found a mentor that can do all of that and more. Ben is one amazing mentor, and the STS-127 passes are just more evidence that can be held against him.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Things I Learned From FIRST

With the end of Championship, four years of FIRST at Olin have now come to a close. I came into these four years not knowing the magnitude of what I was stepping into. I had no idea how to mentor my freshman year, slowly picked up the idea my sophomore year, and took over my junior year even if I still had no clue what I was doing.

I'm now leaving this episode of FIRST with a much better idea of how to communicate, lead, and plan projects. I now have also have some confidence. It takes guts to publicly shame yourself as many times as I do a year. Engineers are not known for their eye-hand coordination or dancing skills. FIRST has also shown me I'm a project manager. I never would have seen myself in this role until I kept ending up there.

Finally, FIRST has also given me the best network I will ever have. I now have contacts in almost every city I could move to when I "grow up". The judges have coached me on interviewing; they've helped me make connections, and are training me on how to shape a career still on the launch pad. Overall, I feel like I'm very well set up to start a job.

I really have learned a lot from this experience. But, no FIRST final event would be complete without a list. So here it is:

Things I have Learned from FIRST

0) Given enough caffeine, almost anything is possible.

1) a. Make friends, they will help you later. Be it getting VIP passes, or a place to stay, friends are great people.
1) b. if you happen to have the wrong name on the VIP pass you're using, it is highly unlikely anyone will notice; even if it is the name Paul and you happen to be female.

2) Get a little, give a little. 5 copies of the pit map can win you a lot more than you think.

3) Never admit you have resources that include a printer.

4) Most high level engineers are really little kids at heart. There is always enough room to play Frisbee inside and get the "stop playing games in the house" look from the judge adviser.

5) Adults are more intense than kids, most of the time.

6) The things that make you look powerful (radios) get annoying. People think you know what you're doing.

7) a. You eventually get over embarrassing yourself in front of large crowds of people
7) b .You cannot delete every single embarrassing picture, so learn to live with them.

8) a. Any event where you do not end up on the floor of the event office debating a nap is a good one.
8) b. Any event where they use your correct name (even you've screwed up) over the radio, is also a good one. It means the know who you are. (Reference: "Judge Judy")

9) Grappa does not stop tasting like lighter fluid, even after the first sip.

10) As Colin says: sleep is for wimps.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On The Road

I swear I've been on the road for a semester and a half.

I just went through the list of places I've been and well, its long.

Owego, NY
Moorestown, NJ
Newport, RI
Cambridge, MA
Chelmsford, MA
Dallas, TX
Laurel, MD
Houston, TX
Newtown, PA
Boston, MA.

Each of these trips has required planning on my part that has taken a significant amount of time. Yes, the Boston/Cambridge/Chelmsford trips may not be long in travel time, but that does not account for the planning hours. Cambridge was a job interview, Chelmsford was two major presentations, and Boston was building a robot that was the culmination of six weeks of insanity.

I am now mastering the art of rent cars and hotels. Be nice to the overly tired rental car agency late at night and they may not put you in that too small, hamster driven car. Same goes for the middle of the day when there are no less than 4 screaming kids and two angry business travelers. While driving that tiny car you may have to pray that you aren't crushed under a semi. Also, while turning on the car turn the volume on the radio down as fast as you can. You may be greeted by Christmas music at Halloween or rap music at 11 pm at night.

Hotels normally will let you into your room late at night. Even if you show up rain soaked at midnight, they will not cancel your room. Sometimes they will even have a free breakfast. Why in their right mind they ask if you want the directions to the fitness center when you are checking in at midnight and out at 7 am I still have not figured out.

There is also now defined smell in my life that is "airport" and "hotel". I have mastered TSA security to a level I never imagined. I know I need exactly two gray bins. No more, no less. After a few gross bathrooms I now carry hand sanitizer on me at all times. I also carry food after a few too many delayed flights at Logan. I could likely eat a meal or four out of my stash.

After all of this is said and done, the one major rule of adventures is still what can go wrong, will go wrong. I end up with plans A, B, C, and D. Flights are always delayed, traffic always happens, I get lost, and things happen. All of this has shown that I have an amazing ability to deal with change and make things happen despite problems. I think this may be Olin or the fact that I grew up in a barn kicking in.

Travel really makes me value the short amount of time I have left at Olin. Coming home to my own bed, in my own room, is likely the highlight of any trip. The only thing that would make this better is having my dog here to welcome me home; however, in a few short months this will become a reality.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Women in Technology

March 24th is an Internet declared holiday of Ada Lovelace Day. It is meant to gain awareness that there is gender inequality still present in technology and draw attention to women excelling despite it.

Normally I'd pass these things over. The Internet doesn't really declare a holiday, but this one resonated too strongly. The mention of the need for female role models, the hidden discrimination, and more all are things I've seen. It hit me too deep in the gut to let this go.

But I'm not here to dwell on the past. I try and let that experience go and hope that things get better.

There are a few women I do admire in technology. Many of them are FIRST Judges. They are the movers and shakers in technology that I have had the opportunity to talk to on a level that without FIRST I would not have had the chance. Some of them have been told nice girls don't do science. Most of them are now high ranking engineers. All of them are amazing people. Helen, Deborah, Sherra, Joann, Cindy, Leann, Sue, Peko, Alex, Elaine, and more I know I'm forgetting. Every one of them is amazing in their own right. Chief Engineers, Program Managers, Professors, Deans, World Conquerers, Robot Builders, Entrepreneurs, Scientists. They are out there as the role models I missed out on.

There are astronauts too. Sunita, Sally, Shannon, Eileen. One day I may be crazy enough to join them. You are the superstars that helped drag me into engineering, the others have just kept me here.

There is finally Amy. I've never met someone with as much drive and resilience. She has shown me that anything is possible and gender does not matter. She's also been the kick when I'm stuck and need a hand. Thank you.

I really cannot say enough about the women in technology I look up to. They come from all over the country, and every industry. But each one of them is proof that it is possible to be a successful female engineer despite everything that tells you no.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who am I

I first wrote this over a year ago, and it is about time for an updated version. I'm starting to learn it is both my actions and my choices who define me, along with my reactions to events around me. California last summer changed who I was and who I see myself as. Here goes another round at trying to define me.

I am the person who has danced the Macarena with a past CEO of Apple, the CEO of Vecna, the inventor of the Ethernet, and more, in front of more people than I care to count.
I have gone careening through an empty parking lot on top of a rolling table. I now accept that these moments will haunt me later on in life and enjoy making an idiot of myself at the time. I've been inside a space shuttle, on the top of a launch pad, and stood under an Atlas rocket. (Have you hugged a rocket today?) I dream so much, my head is stuck in the clouds. I took a leap of faith and went to a school under construction and at some points I have regretted this choice. I've eaten lunch with Jack Hanna, and heard Gloria Steinem speak. I drove around for weeks with a robot in the back of my car, leaving people unable to ride in it. I've mucked horse stalls more times that I've cleaned my room, and I'd still rather muck a stall. I may be over the age of 12, but I still want a pony (in chestnut, please). I'm still afraid that a monster may jump out of my closet and get me one night even though he's been vanquished from under my bed. I enjoy the company of animals. Horses taught me patience, and slowed me down. Dogs taught me to enjoy simple things. Flight fascinates me. Growing up scares me. I love galloping down dirt roads for no reason at all. I try to smile at every chance, even when life hands me a bowl of lemons. I've been called a "fire cracker" and the girl with the most guts around here. After four years of college, I've finally stopped always feeling like a chicken. I'm green around the edges, and even though I appear to know what I'm doing, I really don't. I've learned to hide my nearly constant fear of the unknown. I'd rather help others than myself. I’ve set off a model rocket engine while holding it in a leather man, losing all of my arm hair in the process. I’ve also launched model rockets with a 9V battery and wires a foot long. I’m amazed I’m still alive. I think I know what I want to do with life, but the idea of knowing what I'll be doing scares me. The idea of not knowing where I’ll be living in 6 months scares me more. I play chase with my Jack Russell Terrier, and am just as hard headed as she is. I'm constantly afraid I'm wrong, or am harming someone in some way. I hate disappointing people. One person tries to see how many times in a weekend he is able to make me blush. He also knows the progression in which my face turns red and will happily give you a running commentary. I'll try my hardest as long as I have proof something matters. I may have grown up in a big city, but I’m a small town girl at heart. I have a strange love of pickup trucks (4WD, diesel is the only way to go). I respect people who do their jobs professionally despite adversity and face diversity head on. I respect them more so if they help others accomplish their goals. I enjoyed my summer in California but it messed with my head. Now I need to recalibrate the amount I speak up; Olin makes me speak up too much, California not at all. I’ve been told that my ability to laugh at myself and my passion for life will keep me going much longer than anything else and I hope this is true. I know after last summer I am one tough, smart cookie.

I always hope I’m making Dad proud.