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Meet: Kyle Martin

Real-time Operations Lead
Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado


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Who I Am

I am an aerospace engineer working in real-time operations on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. As with the majority of the members of the spacecraft team, I have several job titles/duties. They include real-time operations (RTO) lead, on-console ACE and systems engineer.

My Job

As the RTO Lead, I ensure there are ACEs on-console for the required coverage times. For example, from spacecraft launch to three months later, the ACEs were on-console 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During cruise, we were on-console only during the normal work week, several hours a day. At Mars Orbit Insertion we staffed 24 hours a day. We are presently in aerobraking, which also requires the ACEs to be on-console 24 hrs a day, seven days a week. We have six certified ACEs that work the on-console rotation. I schedule the ACEs (including myself) for various shifts, making sure there is adequate off-time to prevent "burn out." Also, as the RTO lead, it is important to ensure the ACEs are all performing to the high expectations the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Lockheed-Martin place on ourselves. We have a fantastic group of ACEs who perform the ACE job to near perfection.

As an ACE, I work with the Deep Space Network (DSN) complexes that are located in California (near Barstow, call sign Goldstone), Australia (Canberra) and Spain (Madrid). At any given time, at least one of the DSN complexes has our spacecraft in view. It is that station that I will be working with. The spacecraft sends data down to Earth and they are received by the appropriate antenna at the DSN complex that has MGS in view, and routed via satellite/ground lines to JPL. At JPL, the Data Systems Operation Team archives the data and "broadcasts" it to various "end users." The spacecraft team (one of the end users) here in Denver is one of the primary users of the data. It is my job to verify that this process of delivering data is successfully working, from end-to-end. Another very important function of the ACE is to radiate commands to the spacecraft. Our goal as ACEs is "error-free" commanding. The ACEs have a tremendous responsibility since they are the ones "pushing" the button that radiates the command file to the spacecraft. There have been cases where other spacecraft have been "lost in space" or damaged as a result of an ACE radiating the wrong command file to the spacecraft. That's why we take our jobs very seriously. When commanding the spacecraft, I always enjoy a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction when I've successfully completed radiation of a command file. I'm certain the other ACEs would agree with that feeling of accomplishment.

As a systems engineer, I'm part of a group that creates the command files that will eventually be radiated to the spacecraft. The systems engineer works with the subsystems, science teams and management while coordinating the command files and preparing them for uplink.

What I Like About my Job

I enjoy the responsibility placed on me. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction comes from knowing you did everything (and more) that was asked and expected of you. Also, as an ACE and systems engineer you work with the entire system. What I mean is that you have to know how things work from end-to-end. I like being able to "see" the entire picture and understanding how it works. The bottom line is when you're able to drive home after a very successful work shift, knowing you did everything perfect and smile to yourself enjoying the sense of accomplishment! Thankfully, while working on MGS there have been a lot of smiles during the drive home!

Highlights

The biggest moment was launch. On November 7, 1996, our spacecraft was launched from Florida on top of a Delta rocket. I was the ACE on-console for launch. Once the rocket left the pad, I was responsible for coordinating all of the activities leading up to and after acquiring the spacecraft data (telemetry) post-rocket separation. When the rocket launched, it was exciting and terrifying. It was exciting knowing "we" were on our way to Mars, but it was also terrifying knowing we had no control over the rocket. The spacecraft was along for the ride. Once the spacecraft separated from the rocket, I worked with the DSN complexes in Australia and California (Goldstone) in "locking" on to the spacecraft and acquiring data for the spacecraft team to look at. In the end, everything went very well and soon after, we blasted out of Earth's gravitational pull and headed toward Mars.

Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) was the second most exciting moment. If the spacecraft "missed" Mars, the mission was essentially over. However, we had a successful MOI and soon thereafter started aerobraking.

Influences

In junior high, I checked out a book from the library on World War II aviation. At that time I hated to read and since I had to do a book report, I grabbed the first book I saw. I fell in love with planes and aviation right there! After that, I bought or checked out every book on aviation I could put my hands on. I knew I wanted to be military pilot and an aerospace engineer. That motivated me all the way through high school and into college.

Another very important influence for me was participating in sports. I played football and baseball. During high school I excelled in football and it helped develop my competitive nature. It also helped to develop an attitude that whatever I did, I always wanted to do it the best. This helped me in my career when I came up against something I didn't want to do, but I knew I had to in order to perform the job at hand.

My Career Journey

After graduating from Texas A&M with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1982, I went to work for Rockwell in El Segundo, California. My work was in the flight control analysis area on the B-1B bomber. For nearly seven years, I worked on the B-1. Almost weekly, I flew out to Edwards Air Force Base (from Los Angeles International Airport) to monitor the flight tests. Talk about a "kid in a candy store." I absolutely loved going to Edwards AFB. After the B-1B completed its flight test, I would sit at the end of the hanger, near the flight line and observe all of the aircraft flying out there. It was fantastic! In addition to working on the B-1B, I also worked on the X-31 and on projects in a classified area. Again, the work was fantastic!

In 1989, I came to a fork in the road that led either to Seattle (Boeing) or Denver (Martin-Marietta as it was called then). Wanting a different challenge, I chose Denver to work on spacecraft. I started my spacecraft experience by working on the Magellan spacecraft (to Venus) from 1989 to 1994. I was a systems engineer and coordinated the uploads to the spacecraft. Magellan was an unbelievable experience with both learning the spacecraft and working with the great people involved with it. After Magellen, I went to work on MGS. As a test director, I wrote procedures, ran tests and assisted in troubleshooting anomalies during the assembly, test and launch operations phase. This was an exciting time in which I experienced the actual construction of the spacecraft and testing of it. Once the spacecraft was shipped to Florida in preparation for launch, I began the transition to ACE and systems role of which I'm still a part of.

Personal

I am married (Kim) with four children (Joshua, Jennifer, Jared and Jacob). As exciting as work can be, it definitely takes a back seat to the family. Both my wife and I are very involved with our children and their school/outside-of-school interests. I keep busy coaching two baseball teams, assisting on a third, coaching soccer, being a shooting leader in the local 4-H club and helping with Cub Scouts. Working with young kids is a very important part of my life. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction knowing the kids are having fun, learning good sportsmanship and learning the fundamentals of a sport or other activity that can help them as they mature and become adults. My wife leads the local Girl Scouts and feels the same way about the interaction with young kids. As much as I enjoy my work in the aerospace field, it doesn't compare to the enjoyment I get from seeing a kid's smile after successfully hitting a ball, learning a new skill, successfully performing a skit, etc. It's these things that carry over to work and help me to do the best I can.


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