Online From Jupiter 97
Galileo Orbiter Engineering Deputy Team ChiefMy Field Journals
My name is Bob Gounley and I am a Deputy Team Chief of the Galileo Orbiter Engineering Team. As I write this the Galileo Orbiter and Probe are about 50 days from Jupiter. Their journey has taken them six years.
For me, it's been like a lifetime.
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a year before Sputnik launched. By thetime I started school, everyone was talking about a Space Race. Soon there were men (and one woman) in space. Both the United States and the Soviet Union planned Moon landings. My generation would see a vast, new frontier opened for exploration.
During this time, one of my uncles introduced me to the night sky. From a bench in his backyard, he guided me through the stars. Most of the bright ones, I learned, had names. Their patterns formed constellations, each one with a story behind them. Other stars, the planets, moved across the sky and were worlds like our own -- ones we might someday visit. That night, he gave me a book about astronomy and soon I had read it several times, cover to cover. A lifelong passion had been formed.
I enjoyed science and mathematics classes. Other classes were more of a chore, but I was lucky to have had many teachers who really cared and pushed basics they knew would be valuable later. My English teachers made the greatest contribution. They taught me how important clear communication is, whether its spoken or written. Even the best ideas, they explained, were worthless if you could not explain them to others.
In college, I studied engineering. By this time, my interests were less in discovering things, which scientists do, than in building things, which engineers do. To reassure my parents, who worried about my finding work after graduation,I told them that my training would be good in many industries. However, whenever I paused at my school's portrait gallery of distinguished alumni, it was usually to study the photograph of a man standing beside a spacecraft built to explore the planet Mercury. That's what I wanted to do!
My persistence paid off when, years later, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory offered me a job. I would work on the Galileo Project which was then only 3-1/2years away from a planned 1986 launch. This was everything I had hoped for -- sending a spacecraft off to explore another planet. Was I up to the challenge?
Getting a spacecraft like Galileo ready for launch turned out to be very hard work. My job was to be a "systems engineer". I wouldn't be a specialist, knowing a lot about one particular thing, but a generalist, knowing a little about a lot of things. Mostly, it requires talking to a lot of engineers and scientists and solving problems that don't fit neatly in one person's area. The analogy I like to use is most engineers are like parts of an engine and the systems engineers are like the motor oil; when "Systems" are doing their job well you tend not to notice that they're even there. My engineering skills from college were helpful, but most of what I learned about the spacecraft was from on-the-job training. What was the most valuable skill? You probably guessed --good communication.
During this time, I watched the Galileo spacecraft come together. Computers, sensors, and structure were built and tested, then brought to a large clean room for assembly. There, endless hours were spent testing every wire and checking that every signal. Sometimes, when two pieces of equipment weren't talking to each other, a novice systems engineer (like me) would be called in to talk the people that built both pieces and "sort things out". Eventually, they learned enough to fix the problem, but in the process I learned a lot about how things really work.
I had been on Galileo for several months when I found out that the Project Manager also graduated from my college. It was the better part of a year before I finally realized that he was the man I had seen in the alumni portrait gallery! (As you can see, it's hard for me to remember names and faces.)
By January 1986, Galileo had been shipped to Kennedy Space Center for launch by a Space Shuttle. I had just begun duties as one of the engineers who would fly the spacecraft after its planned May launch. All of us were attending a training lecture which was going slowly. Someone suggested taking a short break so we could watch a shuttle launch from the TV monitors in the room. That launch was 51-L -- Challenger's last flight. We watched in horror as the shuttle and its crew disappeared in an exploding fireball.
From JPL, the loss was deep and painful. The Challenger astronauts were part of the same NASA family as ourselves and would be missed. Somehow, we gathered ourselves together and gradually began to resume the work we had put aside.
For the Galileo team, this was a very difficult period. After years of work, it was now possible that our spacecraft would never launch at all. Some made jokes that it should be shipped for permanent display at the Smithsonian. I wasn't laughing.
Slowly, we began to make concrete plans. Galileo would launch in 1989, but on a six-year trajectory looping through the inner solar system before reaching Jupiter in 1995. When the Project Manager told us the dates, the room fell silent. Many people there had already put in as many years on Galileo as it would be before it got to its destination. Sensing, our discomfort, he explained that our situation was a lot like growing older -- it doesn't seem very good until you look at the alternatives! That won us over. We had a purpose again.
I stayed on the Project and helped build several of the command sequences used to fly Galileo in its early cruise phases. Today I am a spaceflight veteran, having seen the spacecraft through five planetary encounters (one with Venus, two with the Earth, and two asteroid fly-bys) and a bird's-eye observation of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 as it collided with Jupiter. There have been many surprises, both pleasant (discovering a satellite around asteroid Ida) and unpleasant (watching my monitors helplessly as the High-Gain Antenna jammed while opening). Now, after all these years, Galileo has nearly reached its goal and will return valuable data.
It is a great irony that circumstances are taking me away from Galileo at this time. A job opportunity came along on another project and I accepted it. This project will demonstrate an advanced rocket engine (ion propulsion) which has the potential to send future missions to the planets much more quickly and cheaply. It's exciting, but I will miss the people I've worked with very much.
As the Galileo flight team works itself through yet one more operational challenge, this time an uncooperative tape recorder, I am busy closing out work to make a smooth hand-off for my replacement. My role is becoming that of an observer, watching others guide the ship Galileo into a distant port. As they work, I'll explain what they do and why. These reports may include descriptions of past events to better explain the way things are now.
Jupiter On-Line is a great way to share the excitement and frustrations
of flying an interplanetary spacecraft. I look forward to talking with