Online From Jupiter 97
Probe Engineering Team
My name is Dan Carlock, and I'm the lead systems engineer from Hughes Space & Communications Co. (HSC) assigned to work on the Galileo Probe. I work with three other full-time Hughes engineers and four other NASA/Ames Research Center (ARC) engineers on the Probe Engineering Team here at JPL. Actually, my entire career with HSC has been devoted exclusively to Galileo work! As designers and builders of the Galileo Probe (as well as the associated, Orbiter-mounted Relay Radio Hardware [RRH]) under contract to NASA/ARC, we Hughes folks have played an instrumental role in "flying the Probe" during the post-launch mission operations support phase as well.
The best way to describe my role on Galileo Probe is that of a technical "jack of all trades." Thankfully, the Probe's entry and descent into Jupiter's atmosphere were highly successful! So my main task now will be to assist my teammates in data reduction, engineering studies, and writing the Encounter Report (containing the analyses of the mission day data) and Final Report (covering the time since launch to the present). Although wildly successful, there were a few flight anomalies which we've already begun sleuthing. Completing these tasks will easily take the first half of 1996. Last year -- 1995 -- was exceptionally busy because of the final Probe health checkout, Probe Release, and Entry/Relay preparation and operation activities. Throughout the previous three years, I was responsible for contingency planning that is, analyzing ways in which the Probe and RRHs could fail, and then determining what to do in response. In another assignment, I designed a Probe checkout test which greatly shortened the amount of time required to downlink (i.e. send to Earth) the test data. This was important, because the Orbiter's High Gain Antenna (HGA) didn't fully open, so we had to use the "slower" Low Gain Antenna. I've also worked with JPL and ARC to ensure that our model of the critical Probe-to-Orbiter communications link was as accurate as possible. Aside from that, I dabbled in the Probe's release dynamics and entry performance estimates, and assisted my teammates in figuring out how we'll "time-tag" (i.e. identify the time at which each bit of data was taken) the scientific data when it's all been sent down to Earth.
In case this all sounds too technical, let me digress a moment and tell you what a typical day is like! I wake up around 5:15 a.m. and, if I feel ambitious, hop out of my bed and get ready for work. More typically, however, I'm less motivated and have to rush like the dickens to make it to work in an approximately punctual fashion. Living in Santa Monica, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to make the commute I wish it were shorter but I bought my home just before the decision was made to relocate our little office from Hughes in El Segundo to Pasadena arrgghh!!! On the way in, I stop for a cafe latte at a favorite neighborhood bakery to get my requisite charge of caffeine before the drive. Between 8:15 and 8:30 (and sometimes later) I arrive at JPL, and following a short brisk hike through the campus (it really does have that academic look), I plop into our team chief's office to hear the orders of the day, share project news, and give a data dump on what I've done since yesterday and why I still need yet another day to complete whatever particular task that's consumed my time. After the meeting concludes, I go to my desk, check my voicemail messages, and log onto my trusty Mac IIci to check incoming e-mail, Galileo-related news, and accesses to my homepage. Then a moment to plan the day's remaining activities. Since systems analysis comprises most of my job, I actually spend most of my working hours on the computer. I prefer to use an electronic spreadsheet instead of writing FORTRAN code from scratch. Needless to say, I've burned the midnight oil a lot, too; a lot of my life has gone into this project since I've joined. But hundreds of others have helped to conceive of the Probe, design it, build it, test it, and operate it, and they've breathed a lot of their life into this plucky little emissary as well. It's humbling yet exhilarating to think of that, especially since we found out that the Probe actually worked and returned useful data from all on-board experiments on December 7, 1995!
So why did I choose to become an aerospace engineer? I remember, when I was a skinny, small boy of four or five, standing up near the edge of my bed at night to look at the full moon outside for what seemed like hours on end. Although I got in trouble for staying up late, my father was generally rather supportive of my early interest in space. Back in Florida where I grew up, it was a real treat for us to go to Miami every other month, for that meant a trip to the Museum of Science & Space Transit Planetarium! On the ride back home, I would become totally absorbed in little picture books of astronomy and wonder over the photographs and illustrations of distant celestial objects until it was too dark to read. Several years later, my grandfather bought us a department-store refracting telescope which got used a great deal. When it was too rainy or mosquito-infested outside, we also had a home planetarium from Edmund Scientific to entertain us, and glow-in-the-dark star and planet decals plastered over the bedroom ceiling!
Regarding space exploration, I guess that the seed for that vocation sprouted in July of 1969 (at an impressionable 10 years of age) when our family traveled to Cape Kennedy to witness the launch of Apollo 11. I still recall quite vividly the sensation of the Saturn V's rocket roar reverberating against my rib cage and the billowing multicolored clouds of smoke and lengthy trail of orange and yellow flame. Aside from that launch, we were often able to see glowing arcs traced upon the northern skies from the vantage point of our home's roof some 120 miles south. Perhaps this is what inspired me to build and launch my own model rockets though I recall that getting the burnwire to ignite the engine reliably was tricky! I also recall a View Master slideset of the Apollo mission, and early morning pre-school NASA newsreel shorts on the black and white TV before breakfast. All in all, I was fortunate to have lived on Florida's "Space Coast" during the heyday of the 60's space race.
I enjoyed science and math as a youngster. My father used to work for Pratt & Whitney in West Palm Beach, and he often told me stories of full-throttle ground tests on new jet engines, requiring him to insert ear plugs at a moment's notice. Sometimes at night we could hear the roar, over 30 miles away. But if I had to identify one key individual who inspired me to desire a career in space exploration, that would have to be my Uncle Dick. He spent his career working for NASA-Lewis and was there before its creation, back when it was still called NACA. The highlight of his career -- which I wanted to match -- was his assignment as launch manager for one of the Voyager missions. One year I visited his home and saw a wall plaque in his basement containing commemorative mission patches he received from coworkers during the course of his career. It made me really understand that a person could actually make a living from doing something exciting and bold like space exploration! He loved talking technically about all of the projects he had been involved with over the years; his enthusiasm was infectious.
Uncle Dick graduated from the Aero Engineering School at Purdue University following WWII, and I ended up--unintentionally--following in his footsteps. My original goal was to become a fighter pilot, because that seemed (to me) to be the shortest path to becoming an astronaut. But, I didn't get into the Air Force Academy. Instead, I received an unsolicited letter in the mail from Purdue, stating that I had been accepted into their Schools of Engineering. And so I went. Five years later, during a down year in the aerospace industry for new hiring, I graduated and went to work for the U.S. Army, mostly on night-vision equipment for helicopters. I still had a dim glimmer for doing space work in the back of my head; for the most part, I busied myself with making a living.
That is, until 1989, and the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune. Oddly enough, I happened to be in Pasadena at the same time to attend a symposium on imaging technologies sponsored by CalTech. I was fascinated by the near real-time bluish images thrown onto the room-sized monitor, and enthralled by the giddy commentary of the scientists who were equally amazed by what they were describing first-hand for the first time. What I recall most fondly, though, was attending the various sessions and conversing with scientists from around the world. Shortly after my return to St. Louis, I looked for a job at JPL and even interviewed with them but no offer came through and so I shelved my dreams of space once more.
It was time for me to move on past my job with the Army. I worked for eight months on another weapons sight program. Then, I had the good fortune of being laid off when the project I was assigned to ran over budget. I scrambled like heck to get rehired and ultimately cold-called on an electrical bus manager in Hughes Space and Communications Group (now HSC) who got me an interview with the manager of some esoteric project called the Galileo Probe. When he happened to mention that it was a spacecraft built and already bound for Jupiter, I was excited! Talk about Providence my girlfriend says there's no such thing as coincidence whenever people are involved or dreams unfold. I was hired onto the project in June of '91 and have been working on it full time ever since. Sometimes persistance can pay great dividends.
After the Probe mission business is finished, it's back to Hughes for me, and my next assignment (most likely a commercial telecommunications satellite program). Business is very good right now and there should be plenty of job opportunities. Yet I will look back at Galileo Probe fondly, and hope that the era of profitable commercial space business beyond geosynchronous earth orbit occurs before the end of my career lifetime.
In the near-term, repair and renovation should be complete for my condominium
which was damaged during the January '94 Northridge Earthquake. Most of
my possessions have remained in storage since then. I look forward to
resurrecting my hobbies of travel, gourmet cooking, reading, and jazz
music appreciation. With too many late nights at work out of town and
long commutes behind me, I look forward to lots of bike rides along the
beach with my girlfriend Diane and becoming more involved in parish life
with my neighborhood church St. Monica's. Perhaps I will have more opportunities
to share what I've experienced from Galileo Probe with others who want
to learn more about space and why it's such an important place for humanity
to dream about and live within.