Online From Jupiter 97
Shadan Ardalan, Rocket Scientist
I am Shadan Ardalan, a member of the Attitude & Articulation Control Subsystem (AACS) team for the Galileo Orbiter Engineering Team (OET). Just so you know, the term "attitude" does not refer to the spacecraft's state of mind, but its position relative to known reference points in space, such as stars. AACS, for the most part, makes sure that the spacecraft is pointing in the right direction.
First of all, I call myself a "rocket scientist", as opposed to an "aerospace engineer". I do have a Bachelors degree in Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University (home of reigning Big 10 basketball champion for the past 2 years and Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson; and being from Indiana, I am a HUGE basketball fan). I also have a Masters degree from the University of Southern California (who doesn't have a basketball program worth mentioning). The reason I don't call myself an engineer is a silly one: people seem to be more interested in "rocket scientists" than "aerospace engineers". It's a great way to start conversations at parties and peoples' eyes do get bigger when I tell them about all the projects that I work on.
I wanted to be a part of the space program at a very young age. My earliest memories are during the 1970's when NASA had the last of its Apollo missions to the Moon, Viking landed on Mars, and Pioneer sent back images from Jupiter and Saturn for the first time in history. On top of that, my family traveled around the world, which was a lot of fun and a great experience. So the combination of being awestruck by the work the space program was accomplishing and my enjoyment of traveling got me to thinking that becoming an astronaut would be the perfect career for me. Oh, and I really liked the old TV series from the 1970's "The Six Million Dollar Man" with Lee Majors (it was and still is my favorite TV shows) and I am still a huge fan of the "Star Wars" movies.
As I was growing up, I knew that math and physics would be very important if I wanted to work with the space program. I took just about every math and science course my high school had to offer. But probably the course that meant the most to me was Aviation. This class was taught by the high school Industrial Arts (or Shop) teacher, Doug Orahood. I mention him because sometimes there seems to be a misconception of the quality of students that take Shop and the kind of teacher that teaches it. This course meant a great deal to me on a couple of different levels.
First of all, it was the first course that ever show a direct relationship between math and science to the "real world". Prior to this, math and science were confined to equations, story problems, and fun labs where you could potentially blow things up. I was always interested in rockets, airplanes, and cars. I knew what they did, but I never really understood how or why they worked. That Aviation class showed my how and why math, physics, and chemistry allow a plane to fly and stay in the air (or not, as the case may be), make a rocket go up into space (or not, as the case may be), and run a car (or not, as the case may be).
On top of that, Doug was a great teacher. But more importantly, he is an even better person. He not only educated me, but he added a great deal of value to my life as a friend that I still keep in touch with today. He helped me to realize that no dream is too far-fetched (even if it's being an astronaut) and that even if the dream can not be attained (like being an astronaut), a great deal of knowledge can be gain from the attempt and that the experience can result into something else worthwhile. Today, with the current situation of the space program, along with my health restrictions, becoming an astronaut will probably always remain a dream. However, the road I took to becoming an astronaut exposed other interests I have, which still allow me to be involved with the space program.
Besides what I learned in school (like physics, trigonometry, calculus, Newton's Laws, etc...), I actually also learned a lot of useful information from television. There were many great shows, most of them on PBS, like Cosmos with Carl Sagan, Nova, and various special programs about space and technology. Even though I didn't learn anything "technical" (like equations, or theorems, or laws), I did learn much about the kind of work that has been done and the discoveries that have been made. Now with cable television, videos and the Internet so accessible, one can learn about almost anything. Don't get me wrong, books should never be forgotten. I did my fair share of reading; but when you have the images as well as the words, it can greatly increase your understanding.
At the time I'm writing this, I'm 26. And if you read this after Christmas, I'll be 27. I've been working in the space industry since 1987. A little quick math will tell you that I was 18 years old when I started working. Now, I was no "Doogie Howser"; I didn't graduate from Purdue until 1991 (during which time we won 3 Big 10 titles in basketball). I was involved in a work-study program called the Co-Op Program. In general, the Co-Op allows students to alternate their semesters between going to school full time and working in their chosen industry full time. It can be quite competitive and I was fortunate enough to qualify for it. It gave me the opportunity to contribute real work to the space program after only my freshman year in college.
As I mentioned earlier, I am member of the Orbiter Engineering Team. My specialty is astrodynamics and spacecraft attitude dynamics. So appropriately, I am primarily concerned with the motion of the spacecraft, such as pointing it and flying it where it's suppose to go. We use the stars in the sky to help determine where the spacecraft is and to tell us if it is pointing in the right direction. This is pretty much the same technique that Columbus and other explorers used centuries ago when they were navigating across the oceans. The difference is that today we use many more stars than they did and our instruments are much more precise. Typically, the spacecraft needs two to four stars for it to know its attitude. We try to point the spacecraft as accurately as possible so that the science teams' instruments will be pointed in the direction where they can collect their data and take pictures. Also, we have to fire the spacecraft's engines every so often to make sure it stays on course. Here again, we need to point the spacecraft as accurately as possible so that when the spacecraft fires its engines, it will be heading in the right direction. The work here always keeps you busy because the spacecraft is operating 24 hours a day. But I still have time for other things I enjoy, like basketball, cycling, movies, music, and just hanging out with my friends. Overall, it's very rewarding being a part of Galileo.