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Online From Jupiter 97

Randy G. Herrera

Science Coordinator, Radio Science Team

a photo of Randy Herrera

My Field Journals

Greetings and Salutations Fellow Earthlings! My name is Randy G. Herrera and I am the Science Coordinator for the Radio Science Team on Galileo. Before I tell you about Radio Science, let me fill you in on my background and how I got here.

I grew up on the Westside of San Antonio (Texas) where 99% of the residents are of Mexican descent. I graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in June 1980. After high school, I attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, to study electrical engineering. I received my Bachelor of Science degree from there in December 1985. While I was a student at Texas A&M, I was also a co-op student. The co-op (or cooperative education) program allows a student to alternate semesters of school with semesters of work. I (with the help of the co-op office) found a job at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.

At the time, SwRI was the third largest private research and development laboratory in the country. I worked in the Quality Assurance Systems and Engineering Division for 5 semesters (or just over a year and a half). In my senior year, I was awarded a fellowship to attend graduate school from the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering (GEM). Along with the fellowship came a summer internship. Mine was with the ARCO Oil and Gas Research and Development Center in Plano, TX. I worked for ARCO in the summers of '85 and '86. I began graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, in the fall of '86. Through my advisor, I found a part-time job at the General Electric Corporate Research and Development Center. Eventually, my work with my advisor at the Center would lead to the granting of a patent on which I was named co-inventor. I received my master's degree in December '87.

I came to the Laboratory in July '88 and made my way to my present Group in '90. The name of the group is the Radio Science Systems Group. The team that I lead is the Galileo Radio Science Support Team. We are the people who plan, implement, and monitor the Radio Science experiments on Galileo for the Radio Science investigators.

Most of the science teams have a 'black box' (it's not really painted black; that's just a term that means that we're not too worried about what, exactly, is going on inside the box--we just want to know what data comes out) on the spacecraft that accumulates data and sends it to the main computer on board. The computer in turn processes the data a bit and then transmits it to the ground antenna on the earth. Well, in Radio Science, our instrument is composed of the two parts: the spacecraft's radio frequency subsystem (RFS) and the ground antenna. We use the radio signal to investigate the atmosphere of a planet or satellite (moon), to measure the gravity of a planet or satellite, to investigate the plasma surrounding the sun, and to search for gravitational waves (radiation). We record the signal at the ground antenna using specialized equipment. So, while everyone else thinks of the Deep Space Network (the DSN is the system of ground antennas that NASA has in Australia, Spain, and in the California desert) as a 'truck' for bringing back their data, we think of it as scientific instrument that must be tuned, calibrated, and maintained.

My job is to direct the efforts of six other people to 1) insure that we have placed the correct commands in the sequence (like a computer program) that is transmitted to the spacecraft, 2) insure that we have the proper equipment at the station and that it has tested, 3) negotiate with the other teams on the project for the use of resources on the spacecraft, 4) negotiate for use of the ground antennas, 5) keep the investigators informed on the progress of the Radio Science experiments, 6) track the budget for the Support Team (this year our budget is on the order of $700,000), and 7) relay information from the Project to the Team and from individual Team members to the Project. Basically, I spend most of my time in meetings, on the phone, and writing memos.

I really like the fact that we are doing stuff here at the Lab that no one else in the world is doing. It is completely unique. It's really exciting to think about the fact that WE ARE EXPLORING SPACE RIGHT NOW. Nothing at the Lab is rote. Every task and job is an opportunity to do something hasn't been done before. Unfortunately, I sometimes suffer from myopia. I don't see that because I'm too caught up in the day-to-day stress of memos, deliveries, and meetings. But, talking to people from off-Lab always reminds me why this is a great place to work.

I think like most kids I fantasized about working for NASA and becoming an astronaut and that's probably what led me to do well in math. I've always loved math. In high school, I thought that meant becoming a math teacher. But, you don't really get to use the really exciting kind of math as a teacher, so my dad convinced me to take a look at electrical engineering (Dad worked as an industrial engineer for the Air Force although he never went to college. I think he would have made a great college professor.) I was always messing around with electric toys and stuff around the house (I put most of them back together) so electrical engineering seemed a natural choice for me to study. I've never regretted going into engineering. I was one of the few people who NEVER changed his major in college (this is a rare thing).

I admit it! In school, I was a nerd and a geek. But, by the time I was a senior in college, I had begun to see the light. I even took a creative writing course (poetry) and puzzled about how I could fit a course on Shakespeare into my last semester (it didn't work out). (Don't let anybody fool you - WRITING SKILLS ARE VERY IMPORTANT FOR ENGINEERS AND SCIENTISTS!!) So, now in my off-time, I take writing courses and have even written one chapter of a novel. I do intend to keep writing and hope to have a novel published - someday! What do I write about? Hmmmm, well, the usual...love, death, family.

I also do quite a bit of volunteering. I'm a Facilitator in the Buddy Program at AIDS Project Los Angeles. Buddies are people who have volunteered to provide emotional and social support to People With AIDS (PWAs). I've been a Buddy to two PWAs. The first was named Roxie. He died in January '90. The second was named Fred. He died in September '92. Fred and I were especially close - which is odd considering that he and I were nothing alike. But he was a very sweet and gentle man that will always be a part of my life. In fact, I have a picture of him on my desk from the gay pride march in June '92. He was very happy that day.

So, anyway, all Buddies are assigned to support groups and, once a month, they are required to attend their support group's meeting. This provides the Buddies with an opportunity to talk about their relationship with their PWA with other people in similar situations. The facilitator (like me) is there to keep the meeting moving forward.

I also help with AIDS Walk Los Angeles, the AIDS Dance-athon, and the AIDS Posada in Pasadena. When I'm not volunteering, I like going down to the beach and rollerblading or just lying in the sun and reading.



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