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Rick Fredo

picture of Rick Fredo
My job title is "Electrical Power System Engineer". My primary function is to ensure the proper operation of the Hubble Space Telescope's batteries and solar arrays so that all of the equipment on-board the spacecraft receives continuous electrical power. I am called upon to respond to anomalies or failed equipment at any hour of the day, much as a paramedic or fireman would respond to a "911" call. My job also involves daily monitoring of data from the HST that is received at the ground station here at Greenbelt, Maryland. I look for signs of faults or problems in equipment performance and I also try to predict future performance. To do this, I must manipulate large data files and compare the HST equipment performance to mathematical models. I also write periodic reports and engineering memorandums.

What I like least about the job are the many frustrating hours devoted to making sure that nothing goes wrong! The HST cost over $1 billion dollars - we can not afford to make mistakes. This places enormous pressure on me and my fellow engineers to always get-it-right the first time. We review procedures, checklists, and command sequences over and over until we correct every mistake.

As a kid, I was greatly influenced by watching the Apollo Moon missions on TV in the 1960(s). I also had an avid interest in astronomy - spending many nights looking through telescopes and searching the Milky Way, appreciating its beauty and learning to read star charts as if they were road maps. I can still remember seeing the crescent moon through a small telescope for the first time. As my eye traced the dark outline of the lunar mountain ranges and crater walls, I realized for the first time that this was another place to visit, to explore, and to know. The moon was no longer just a bright disk in the night sky - it had perspective; rocky ledges, deep gorges, and mountain peaks. It had depth, it was real, and we could go there! I read books by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Kurt Vonnegut, and watched movies like "2001 Space Odyssey" and TV shows like Star Trek. In high-school, I would go to the library to read astronomy magazines like "Sky and Telescope" to follow the journeys of the Pioneer spacecraft as they traversed the outer solar system. I always enjoyed visiting our school planetarium and looked forward to my high-school astronomy class. All these things combined to lead me toward a career in science and engineering.

After graduating from high school in 1974, I attended Penn State and eventually received a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1978. Realizing that my true interest was still in space travel and exploration,I remained at Penn State and graduated with a Master's Degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1980. My research topic in graduate school centered on predicting the final re-entry path of Skylab. Skylab was a huge orbiting observatory that was degrading in orbit due to atmospheric drag. We received a grant from NASA to research the orbital decay and predict its re-entry and the location of impact. This was an exciting time at our school as this project generated a great deal of public interest and media exposure. As it turned out, none of the predictions were right - most, including ours, were in error by thousands of miles. Skylab eventually streaked through the western Australia sky and pieces of it were found scattered over hundreds of miles of mostly uninhabited terrain.

In 1980, I took a job with Lockheed in California designing spacecraft attitude control systems, these are the electro-mechanical components that control the position of the spacecraft while in orbit. Later, I transferred to England where I worked for 6 years in a satellite control center performing a job similar to what I am doing now for the HST program. Finally, in 1989, I returned to Maryland and began my present job on the Hubble Space Telescope program.

Some of my favorite activities are playing tennis, bicycling, reading and painting. Several years ago, I traveled through Europe on a bicycle with my food, sleeping bag, and tent piled on the back. Now, I bicycle for exercise around my neighborhood. I love to read - some of my favorite classics include Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, Treasure Island, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Robin Hood. I like to paint, usually I copy from a photogragh or another painting, and I am also learning to play the guitar. I listen to and love all types of music, from Berlioz, Mahler, and Mozart, to Yes, U2, Nine Inch Nails, and Garbage. I share my house with Sheeba, the sweetest and fattest cat you'll ever meet. And finally, I still enjoy star-gazing when time and weather permit. I have never lost that sense of awe and wonderment when I look up at the night sky.

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