Online From Jupiter 97
Member, Mission Planning and Educational Outreach Team
Hi! My name is Edward Hirst. I have been working for the Galileo Project since July 19, 1993. I am one of four people in the Mission Planning and Outreach Coordination Office. As its name implies, our office does both planning and outreach, but I spend most of my time doing planning tasks. These tasks are varied in nature and range from tracking Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna allocations to developing key mission strategies and planning guidelines.
Since my early teens I have been interested in airplanes and spacecraft. My family had its fair share of aeronautic - type careers. My grandfather was one of the first commercial airline pilots to fly regularly into Central America. He worked for a Guatemalan airline called "Aerovias de Guatemala" (today it is known as Aviateca) and his regular route involved flying from Guatemala City to New Orleans to Belize City and back to Guatemala. I also had an uncle that flew crop dusters in southern Guatemala. I remember many summer vacations that he would take my siblings and I up for a spin. My father also had a career in aeronautics. He served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years before retiring. He did a variety of different jobs including being crew chief on a C-123 in the Vietnam War and spending 11 years in Panama teaching aircraft mechanics to armed forces students from a variety of Central American countries.
I must also give due credit to the media. I grew up during the '70s and '80s which featured movies like the Star Wars trilogy, Battlestar Galactica and 2001 (which I saw for the first time when I was 8 years old and all I remember is falling asleep). I can't really say that the Apollo program influenced me since I was not even born when Apollo 11 first landed on the Moon! However, the first Space Shuttle flight was in 1981 (I was 11 at the time) and it most certainly had a large effect on me. I also remember 3rd grade letter writing exercise in which we were asked to pick a name off a list of companies and write a letter requesting free materials. I happened to pick a company named "Jet Propulsion Laboratory". I thought to myself: 'Cool! Jet engines and rockets and fire and stuff!'. Boy was I surprised when I received a bunch of pictures of planets! Little did I know that I would end up working at JPL.
I would have to say that the first 'real' notion of a career in aerospace did not come until early in my high school years. At the time, I was living in Guatemala City. There were no colleges in Guatemala that offered Aerospace as a career major, but going directly from a Guatemalan high school to an U.S. college was more difficult than what I was willing to try. I decided to start college in Guatemala and spent the next two and a half years taking basic physics and math courses. In that time, I completed the requirements and acquired a B.S. in Math and Physics from the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, a small college of about 3000 students. I spent my last year in Guatemala applying to the Aerospace Engineering Department of the University of Texas at Austin. My older sister and brother were both studying there already so I had a place to crash. Besides, UT Austin had a highly ranked engineering department. After my transfer to UT Austin, it was decided that only one year of my course work in Guatemala was applicable to the coursework required for the 4yr B.S. Aerospace degree. I spent the next 3 years completing the degree requirements. The Aerospace degree offered two technical areas: Aeronautics and Aerospace. I elected to go the Aerospace route and took courses like "Advanced Celestial Mechanics" and "Space Mission Design".
So, what did all of this do to prepare me for my job? I think it's safe to say that it taught me how to learn on my own. Both in Guatemala and at UT, we were expected to 'fill in the blanks' on our own time. Professors expected us to come to class with questions which meant spending time on our own going over the material and formulating such questions. It also taught me how to organize myself and, to use a trendy term, efficiently perform "multi-tasking". Potential employers also appreciate the ability to do other things besides simply going to class and studying. I was involved in student government, the aerospace student newspaper, intramural sports, honor societies and had a part-time job. Being involved in a variety of things showed that I was able to perform well at my job (getting good grades and ultimately a degree) without being affected by my life away from work.
Starting a year prior to graduation, I began to think about the 'what comes next?' question. Fortunately, the engineering department at UT Austin had a very good job placement program and we had many opportunities to interview with interested companies. Unfortunately, the aerospace business had begun its decline and at many of my interviews I heard statements like: 'We are in a hiring freeze and are here just to maintain a presence on campus'. Believe me, it was very frustrating. I decided to apply for graduate school (a popular backup plan for many of my classmates) and was accepted to a number of programs and, although it was not my first choice, was preparing myself to this fate. The summer after graduation, I stayed at school and worked full-time at the same job I had the previous semester (and all through college, for that matter). During the previous semester, I had interviewed with JPL and had given them my resume. I received a call and was invited out to JPL for an on-site interview which went fairly well. Approximately a month later, I called JPL to check on the status of my interview and was informed that they had a job for me. Needless to say, I snatched it up and have been here since.
The best thing about my job is that I get to learn just enough about
everything on the spacecraft and our mission at Jupiter to understand
'globally' what the mission is about, what the capabilities of the Galileo
spacecraft are and what we will have accomplished once our mission ends.
In addition, working at JPL keeps me in touch with all of the recent and
exciting activities in space exploration. The only thing I don't like
about my job is that it takes up most of my time. I like sports and, in
particular, bodyboarding. If I could move JPL closer to the beach (so
as to avoid an hour-long commute every day) and I could live on the beach,
I would have the best of all worlds.