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Online From Jupiter 97

Steven Tyler

a photo of Steven Tyler

What's he doing now? (1997)

Steven is currently doing contigency planning for Cassini, the mission to Saturn.

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

Orbiter Operations Group Lead

My Field Journals

I'm Steven Tyler, and I lead the Orbiter Operations Group on Galileo's Orbiter Engineering Team. "Operations" means that we help fly the spacecraft, rather than build it. We look at the instruments to see how the spacecraft is doing and send commands to it almost as if we were flying an airplane. The big difference is that we may take weeks to figure out what is happening and do something about it. When we do send commands to Galileo, we sometimes change the computer programs on our craft, which is not what an airplane pilot would normally do. Another difference is that we're not on board; our craft is over 500 million miles away!

I was only eleven years old when JPL's Explorer 1 was launched in January, 1958, and I followed our Space Program with great interest. My brother had already graduated from college as a chemical engineer, and when I was in high school, I began to read my brother's college textbooks and work the problems in them. I also bought some chemicals and did a few of the experiments.

When I was in college, my brother sometimes showed me some of the engineering problems he worked on. I was impressed when he designed the suits for the Apollo astronauts (those orange things you see them wear in the movies as they get into their craft). I learned how to write computer programs, and when I was still in college, I began to help program my brother's engineering problems. He advised me to become an engineer. I decided that if he could be one, I could too.

As a college student, I majored in Physics. Both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, I worked in low temperature Physics labs. My brother's specialty was cryogenics (low temperature engineering), but I didn't find this sort of work easy at all! I was fine at solving problems, and even at designing equipment, but to run an experiment I had to put a lot of hardware together and then operate several different machines at once. After a while, I decided to try a field where I could write computer programs instead.

When Galileo became a project, I was an experienced software engineer, and I was looking for a better job. JPL wanted help checking their on-board computer programs and hired me. Eventually, I became involved in an enormous variety of interesting tasks. I wrote and inspected computer programs, designed and reviewed fault protection strategies, reviewed reports of problems and failures, designed improvements for accurately pointing ground antennas, modeled scientific data about the space environment (both near-Earth and near-Jupiter) and inspected the design of Galileo's Command and Data Subsystem hardware. I've really enjoyed being able to perform such a variety of tasks, and I'm glad that my training in such a general field as Physics has helped me do all this. To work in Operations, experience in a variety of engineering tasks helps, but I think I overdid it. I'd be better off with more experience in Operations.

As a Systems Engineer on Galileo, I often have to present the choices we have for solving some problem that has come up. One thing that has helped me in this is teaching experience. For a few years, I taught Physics classes (at UCLA) and later Computer Science (at Cal State Northridge). This experience helps me explain ideas to an audience.

My job is interesting and challenging. It takes quite a while to become a professional in spacecraft systems engineering, and no matter how good you get, you know that you'll still make mistakes sometimes.



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