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Online From Jupiter 97

Todd J. Barber

Propulsion Engineer

a photo of Todd J. Barber

My Field Journals

My name is Todd J. Barber, and I have been working on the Galileo mission for five years now. Though the Galileo propulsion system, the Retro Propulsion Module (RPM), was built by the Federal Republic of Germany and donated to NASA, there are both German and American scientists and engineers working on RPM mission operations. The RPM is a complex rocket propulsion system that provides all the trajectory correction and pointing control capability for the Galileo spacecraft.

I work closely with two colleagues from the German Space Operations Center, monitoring the RPM on a circuitous route to Jupiter. Some of my mission duties include keeping track of the total propellant consumed by the Galileo small thrusters and main engine, helping plan Trajectory Correction Maneuvers to keep the spacecraft on course, and monitoring propellant and pressurant tank pressures and temperatures. The RPM components must remain healthy to enable certain key mission objectives, most notably the Jupiter Orbit Insertion burn to take place December 7, 1995. The successful completion of this maneuver will be much cause for celebration, as then Galileo will be in a capture orbit about Jupiter and the orbital tour science may begin!

I feel so very fortunate to be working at JPL. Similar to many youngsters, I had a strong interest in the space program while growing up in Kansas. However, for some reason, human space missions were not nearly as interesting to me as robotic ones. I think the moment I knew I was hooked was in 1979 and 1980. My grandparents were lifetime subscribers to National Geographic Magazine and I used to pore over every issue when I visited them. My parents got me a subscription to the magazine and that's where I first learned of the wonderful Voyager spacecraft and their spectacular data (particularly pictures) gleaned from flying by Jupiter and Saturn.

At that moment, I told myself that I had to work at JPL, which built and managed the Voyager spacecraft! It is so thrilling to actually be living out my dream job! Of course, I kept studying math and science courses, since these interested me and since I knew they would be useful for a NASA career. Starting in 1984, I attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering. After some dogged effort on my part, JPL offered me a permanent position October, 1990! It has been the five best years of my life since that moment.

I think the best part of my job is working with such highly competent, intelligent people from all over the world. Their humor and camaraderie help me through any difficult times that may arise. It is sometimes very challenging keeping on top of all the things the spacecraft has to teach us. But, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we chose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Though a very small player in the Galileo team, I swell with pride when I see the latest scientific data beamed down from the spacecraft, from the discovery of a small moon orbiting the asteroid Ida to the detection of an intense interplanetary dust storm as we approach Jupiter. One drawback to my job is the occasional bout with office politics. Also, there is perhaps a bit more paperwork and a bit less mathematics than I would desire. But these are small prices to pay for the privilege of helping in some small way to explore the solar system.

I always enjoyed taking things apart as a kid (though I was never able to put them back together again!). My chemistry set was a large part of my formative years, and I am sure that influenced my choice of sub-disciplines, since propulsion is intimately connected with chemistry (or maybe I just wanted to write "rocket scientist" on my resume). My parents and teachers, particularly my mathematics and science teachers, were always very supportive and encouraged my hobbies, no matter how many holes I burned in the carpet! If you are interested in this type of work, I encourage you to study science and mathematics courses and learn as much about NASA as possible.

When not on the job, I play a lot of basketball with young adults (they run circles around me!) and play some tennis as well. I am also very active in music. I play the piano as often as possible, and sing in my church choir. I also like composing and arranging music, and I just had my first choral piece accepted for publication. In addition, I sing in the mixed a cappella vocal quintet "Chanson" charitably and professionally. We sing many types of music, including barbershop, patriotic, vocal jazz, Christmas, gospel, etc. and usually spend most of our December evenings in Dickens' costumes, caroling for shoppers in the Pasadena area. The group is made up of JPL employees and has been highly rewarding. I am looking forward to new challenges in music and in my career at JPL in the future.

 

 
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