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Online From Jupiter 97

Stephen Licata

a photo of Stephen Licata

My Field Journals

What's he doing now? (1997)

Stephen is now working on the Mars Global Surveyor

In September, 1996 I left the Galileo project and joined the Mission Planning and Sequence Team of the Mars Global Surveyor. Here I am able to to contribute my 10+ years of experience on Galileo in these same areas. In support of the November 7, 1996 launch of the MGS spacecraft, I also updated a critical piece of mission activity scheduling software that enables our small planning team (3-4 persons) to produce schedules of spacecraft and tracking network activities in a matter of hours rather than days. The MGS mission is really pioneering the notion of faster/better/cheaper to mission operations. The same company that built the spacecraft (Lockheed-Martin Astronautics) also runs mission control from their facility in Denver, Colorado.

Our team at JPL electronically receives and combines inputs to the master schedule from the spacecraft team in Denver as well as our team of scientists from around the country. With very capable software, we can now accomplish with a single person the work that once required two or three persons on earlier projects. We are even developing a computer program that will monitor short-term changes to our support activity (e.g. our allocated s/c tracking time with the Deep Space Network) and automatically regenerate and distribute subsequent revisions to the master schedule. This allows our team members to give their full attention to the first version of each master schedule installment which is negotiated and developed about once every six weeks.

It has been very rewarding to work on different projects at JPL. The future for NASA is to have many more spacecraft projects, but each with a very small budget and number of support persons. I hope to continue to be part of this new and challenging trend in space exploration.

What was he doing during the original OFJ project? (1995-96)

Member, Mission Control Team

My Field Journals

Hi, my name is Stephen Licata and I am a member of the Mission Control Team on the Galileo Mission to Jupiter. I have worked at JPL since October, 1985 and have a Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.

JPL is actually my third job as an engineer. While in college I was fortunate to work a few semesters and summers as a junior engineer at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. This is where the Space Shuttle often lands when it cannot go back to the Kennedy Space Center because of bad weather. It is also the home of NASA's experimental aircraft program and where the events of the movie "The Right Stuff" actually took place. Right after I graduated from college in 1983, I also worked for a few years at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut designing the flight control systems for helicopters.

Since coming to JPL I have also worked as a mission design engineer doing the long-range (i.e. pre-launch) planning for the Magellan Mission to Venus, as well as variety of smaller studies for experiments in Earth orbit. I joined the Galileo Project in May, 1989 and did long-range planning for the Galileo program before switching over to my most recent assignment in May, 1995.

I live in Pasadena, California and have been married to my wife Juliana from Peru for about 1-1/2 years. She works as a bank teller and we are planning to have our first kid by the end of next year. For hobbies I enjoy hiking, astronomy and science fiction (of course!) but I am also very active with my church group and even host a weekly radio talk show that deals with a lot of social and educational issues.

My current assignment is called the telemetry downlink engineer for the Mission Control Team. This means that I am responsible for understanding all the technical and procedural issues for collecting and organizing data coming down from the spacecraft - from the moment it leaves the spacecraft until it arrives at the computer terminal of an engineer or project scientist. I also serve in a backup capacity for one aspect of the uplink process (i.e. sending information from the ground to the spacecraft). I often help put together the master schedule of events that explains on a daily basis what is happening on both the spacecraft and at the DSN tracking stations.

I have enjoyed astronomy and the space program since I was a child, but during high school, a part of a class assignment, I went out to interview an astronomer about what his job was really like. I decided then that rather than being the person who analyzes the data from space, I would rather be the person GATHERING that data. Therefore, about 1 year later, I applied for and was accepted into program for Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at the University of Illinois.

The best thing about the job is that fact that I feel I am part of a team and a mission with a definite purpose. The greatest excitement comes not from just discovering new things (which really only happens a few times in a career even if you are lucky), but accomplishing great engineering achievements against the challenges not just of Mother Nature but also man-made problems like mechanical failures on a spacecraft.

The only negative aspects about the job is that because we are doing something new and untested we often put a great amount of effort into exciting plans for the spacecraft, or pursue technical studies, that eventually don't get used either because we found that there was a better way to do things or because some glitch with the spacecraft forces us to abandon a particular set of science observations just to recover the spacecraft and get back onto the master plan.

I actually read very little as a kid, except for astronomy books and maybe material like detective stories and some science fiction. I would recommend basically two types of materials to read: Books that help you develop a personal vision of what society should be like in the future; and those books that help you to think critically about everything from prejudice to conventional science and teach you how to communicate and work well with others who may have differing opinions. Today we really need people who can explain why we need to do space science other than just "It's fun to do" and we need people who can get things done - using both critical thinking, good writing skills and above all, good people skills.

In general, I was impressed by only a very few teachers - my English and Physics teachers for my junior year in high school and one college junior professor at the University of Illinois for classes on the mathematics of objects in motion. Each person was very enthusiastic about the subjects they taught and knew what it was like to struggle with the homework so they gave lessons that actually showed you how to solve the problems or write a good paper, rather than leaving the student to "figure it all out just from the book."

 

 
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