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Meet: Rich Hogen

Operations, Mars Global Surveyor
Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado

rich hogen photo

Who I Am

I am a systems analyst with the Mars Surveyor Operations Project at Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Flight Systems. Following 22 months as a systems and real-time ops analyst flying Mars Global Surveyor and supporting Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, I was assigned in May '99 to the Mars Surveyor 2001 Program as mission ops design engineer. My current duties specifically include coordinating and performing updates to command sequences and configuration files for the '01 Lander (and Orbiter for now, until a second mission ops design engineer is hired), coordinating flight rules updates, and supporting Assembly, Test and Launch Operations testing.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 27, 1965, I grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and earned my BS degree in Earth and Atmospheric Science in 1991 from The City College, City University of New York. I also earned an MS degree in Planetary Science, 1995, and a second MS degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering, 1997, both from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

How I Got Where I Am

I have been a sandwich maker, a deliverer of flowers, a preschool teacher, a taxi driver, a data processing manager and a shareware software author, and to some extent I still am all of these. But space exploration has always been there. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing spacecraft, but for most of my life it was "just a childhood dream." So how did I get to aerospace engineering? It's something of a long story, so bear with me.

I come from a family of peasant immigrants who fled totalitarian regimes in China, Germany and Cuba earlier in this century. (My father is half-Chinese and half-Cuban and my mother was German.) Before me, no one in my extended family had ever gone to college, and some had not had the equivalent of a high school education. My family was more interested in simple safety and security than complicated, expensive education. When it came to school I was, shall we say, less than motivated. My work ethic was more along the lines of "get a good job and stick with it."

The problem with that reasoning was I knew I was growing up in a very different world than that of my elders. My world was to be the information age, the age of high technology, the next millenium. Somehow, probably due to "Star Trek" and other mind-expanding influences, I knew that I had to get a higher education in order to maximize my opportunities, both to have security and to have a positive effect on the world.

Since I was a child I've dreamt of space exploration. I grew up during a time when world consciousness was expanding due to the pictures of our Earth and Moon brought back from space by the Apollo and Skylab astronauts. My parents were not space buffs, so I never saw any Apollo or Skylab coverage on television while those missions were happening, yet I could not escape the profound social change their simple space photographs had caused.

But I lacked confidence and savvy. I left college long before finishing. It took me another five years (1988) to realize and believe that I could succeed, to muster the courage to ask for help with college costs and return home, and to develop the patience and persistence to attend college. (I attended The City College in Harlem, New York City, which offered an "Earth and Planetary Sciences" degree at that time; it was close to home and it was affordable.) After eight years in college earning a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees (at University of Colorado, Boulder) I finally returned to the workplace, this time with the demonstrated ability to learn about and analyze spacecraft and space missions.

And that's how I transformed from sandwich maker to aerospace engineer!

Here's an important tip about your education: Education is not about remembering, it's all about learning how to learn, critical thinking. No amount of "data" stuffed into your memory can prepare you for the world of the future, because information is always outdated. But the tool, critical thinking, can always be used.

Furthermore, you cannot remember everything, only things you experience often. But if you discipline yourself to learn, to understand how humans learn and how you, in particular, learn, then you can succeed at any level of education. After that it's just a matter of logistics, like filling out admissions forms and financial-aid forms and getting from place to place.

Pros and Cons

All jobs are stressful. Life is stressful. But aerospace operations brings some additional stresses to life, primarily due to schedule requirements (the spacecraft doesn't care about or stop for nights, weekends or holidays), but also because of emotional investment. As designers, builders and operators of spacecraft, we pour our hearts into our work. We want that bird to fly and to succeed, so we grow anxious when the bird's wing is damaged or data are lost. It's not just about job security. Space exploration is a gift to all humanity, and we know it. We want that gift to be "just right."

But aside from stresses, when you get right down to it, flying a spacecraft that's on its way to or in orbit around another planet is just really cool! It's the ultimate in "remote-control flying." It has a nobility and a permanence to it. It is of historical importance. The only thing that could compare, I suppose, is actually being there.

Learn more from my chats
June 28, 1999
May 19, 1998
May 6, 1998
March 11, 1998


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