Online From Jupiter 97
Science and Sequencing Office Manager
Hi. My name is Jim Erickson. I graduated from Harvey Mudd College in 1975. I started at JPL in 1974 as an academic part-time employee, and converted to full time status after graduation. My hobbies include softball, biking, and amateur radio. I grew up in the local area (Sunland, Tujunga), am 43 years old, married, with a daughter in second grade.
During the 20+ years I have worked at JPL, most of the time has been spent working on various flight projects, Viking (first successful landing on Mars), Voyager (flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and now Galileo. For Viking and Voyager I spent almost all of my time working with the ground parts of the mission, the computers and other hardware that are used to transmit data to the spacecraft and receive data from it. With Galileo I had the opportunity to work on almost all parts of the project; spacecraft and ground components, pre-launch development and operations.
I started out working on the spacecraft telemetry design, which is how the spacecraft "talks" to the ground. I then added the design of the ground telemetry processing systems that interpret what the spacecraft is saying, and then shifted to developing and running the Sequence Team before launch. The Sequence Team is responsible for taking the desires of all the spacecraft users (scientists who want their instruments to acquire certain data, and spacecraft engineers who want to perform certain actions with the various spacecraft subsystems), and converting them into the strings of ones and zeros that the spacecraft can understand. Almost all of the activity performed by the spacecraft is caused by a set of timed commands called a stored sequence. The Sequence Team develops these, and other types of commands to be sent to the spacecraft.
After the successful completion of several encounters I shifted to helping manage the Engineering Office. It is the office responsible for determining where the spacecraft is, whether the spacecraft is healthy, and how to build instructions for what the spacecraft should do.
In my present job as Science and Sequencing Office Manager, I assist in the management of the various science teams that plan what science data the spacecraft's instruments should take, as well as the Sequence Team (transferred over from the Engineering Office in a re-organization of the Project). This is a great job, with a lot of visibility into how various parts of the project actually perform their work, as well as visibility into what the spacecraft is planning to do. One of the tasks involved is to review the planned activities for the spacecraft at several levels, at the science content level, at the level where all activities (engineering and science) are planned, and at the final command level files ready to be sent to the spacecraft. Another task is to review any problems identified with the science or sequencing activities to ensure that what we believe has been fixed really is, or that it really is inconsequential and we can safely not worry about it. And one of the most interesting jobs is a sort of catch-all one - I get my share of tasks that really don't belong to any team, but need to be done. These are the tasks that allow me to learn something new, the best part of the job.
As you can probably tell from my career, I didn't have a plan for what
I wanted to do when I grew up, and I really still don't. I know I want
to continue working with flight projects, but I don't really have a planned
next step after finishing Galileo. I'm still excited by the space program,
as much as when I was in school reading science fiction novels. I never
had any idea that I might get to help real spacecraft operate. I wanted
to be able to build new things, and all of the fields I could think of
where that happens required lots of math skills and science knowledge.
At the high school level I began concentrating in math and the physical
sciences. This provided the background to get into a science and engineering
college, and a decision to concentrate in a Physics degree. All of the
knowledge and training before I started work at JPL really just got me
ready to begin learning. You have to be prepared to continue learning
throughout your career, or you'll find you aren't contributing as much
as you should. And if you don't continue learning, you'll also find you
aren't having as much fun as you could.