Meet: Brad Berch
Integrated Process Team Lead
What I do
I work for the Lockheed Martin Corporation as the IPT Lead for Neurolab, or more commonly known as a Project Manager. IPT is a NASA acronym that stands for Integrated Process Team. A true "team" approach is required when managing such a large project team (65-85 total Lockheed Martin members) consisting of engineers, scientists, trainers, technicians, etc.
Neurolab is the second project that I have managed since arriving at the Ames Research Center nearly three years ago. The first project that I managed was a flight hardware development effort that involved preparing a specialized refrigeration module to carry quail eggs safely to the Space Station Mir aboard the Space Shuttle (STS-76).
Role for Neurolab
My responsibility is to manage the day-to-day activities that will ensure that the Ames Research Center experiments and animal habitats are developed, are well tested and perform well during the Neurolab flight. All of this effort must be done within a tight budget and schedule that is specified by contract between Lockheed Martin Engineering Sciences Co. and NASA.
My Career Journey
Some people plan very carefully for a specific career, and others (like myself) study, have hobbies and do work that they enjoy which sometimes leads to an exciting career.
I initially joined the Space Shuttle program as a scuba diver about 13 years ago, responsible for recovering Space Shuttle boosters that fall back into the ocean. It was amazing, to me, that the hobby that I most enjoyed was the key to my eventual career in aerospace!
After training as a diver, mechanical technician, and eventually as a mechanical engineer, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a fluid systems engineer for the Space Shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center. After spending four very rewarding years supporting shuttle launches from the SRB Hydraulics console in the Launch Control Center, I became very interested in the payloads and experiments that fly inside the shuttle.
My undergraduate degree was in animal science from Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo, CA. Through my studies and senior research project at Cal Poly, I had the good fortune to meet with one of the most respected researchers at the Ames Research Center, Dr. Emily Holton.
As luck would have it, Dr. Holton was scheduled to fly on a Space Shuttle mission that I would be supporting from the Launch Control Center. After not having talked to Dr. Holton for almost seven years, I was very eager to see her and to discuss my interest in science payloads being flown aboard the Space Shuttle.
Dr. Holton was very gracious in steering me towards a job at KSC that involved supporting science payload customers that were preparing their experiments for spaceflight.
A few years after supporting science payloads at the Kennedy Space Center, I decided that moving back to California was a priority in my life and that I would try to land a job at the Ames Research Center where most of the life science experiments originate from.
During all of these years I continued my education and eventually received a master's degree in management from Florida Tech.
Each of my positions within the Space Shuttle project has been challenging in its own way. It is important for me to be involved with interesting challenges, and I think that attitude has been responsible for bringing me to a leadership position within Neurolab.
Likes/Dislikes about Career
I most enjoy meeting and working with people who are leaders in their respective fields and who have a real love for their work. I also enjoy travel and the opportunity to meet people from other areas and countries. I recently was fortunate enough to visit our international partners in Japan to see the Neurolab aquatic habitat hardware (VFEU) before it was shipped to the Kennedy Space Center.
One of the negative aspects to my career is that, in my opinion, funding for the Space Program is inadequate. Participating in a Space Shuttle flight is rewarding, but funding levels from Congress and NASA prevent salaries and benefits from being equal with other industries.
Preparation for Career
As a ten-year-old, I sat glued to the television watching the first Apollo astronauts orbit and eventually land on the Moon. My interest in agriculture as a child and teenager spurred my interest in the biological sciences. In each area of my life I have tried to pursue those things that most interested me. For me it was far easier to excel in areas that fascinated me than to pursue an objective because it was someone else's dream.
Involve yourself in various hobbies and school work that contain technical challenges and exposure to scientific study. To develop your leadership, strive to be the captain of your sports team, member of student government or take other leadership opportunities. When I was in the sixth grade, my classmates encouraged me to run for student body president. After winning the election, I learned a lot about student government and leadership.
Many great people have helped me along life's journey, but perhaps the most important thing has been to believe that you can reach any goal that you set your mind to, if you are willing to put in the effort! My dad passed away (from cancer) when I was only 10 years old. He taught me to always be truthful and that a person's word was his reputation. This has always been valuable to me in my personal life and career. My mother, who always has a kind word and smile, has taught me to be tolerant and to love others.
I have been married to a wonderful wife (Lena) for fifteen years. We have four children ages 12 (Cristina), 10 (Stefanie), 2 (Jeremy) and 4 months (Monica). Cristina and Stefanie, my two oldest daughters, have seen many Space Shuttle launches while we lived near the Kennedy Space Center. They both love music and play the saxophone and clarinet. Cristina thinks that she may want to become a physicist when she grows up and Stefanie fancies herself as a music teacher. Jeremy, who is only 2, would like to be a "Power Ranger," but we are pretty sure he may change his mind later, ha ha.
I love to scuba dive, ocean fish, hunt deer and elk, travel, hike in the woods, read, cook and watch science fiction movies. My wife Lena is an aerobics instructor, seamstress and excellent cook. She sews many of the clothes worn by the family.
In my personal life, I try to maximize the amount of time that my family and I spend outdoors enjoying nature whether it be on land, near or under the water.
In the future, I would like to help build interest in, secure funding and manage a manned mission to Mars! I hope some of you readers will be along for the ride!