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Meet: Melvin Buderer

JSC Payload Project Scientist

What I do:

I am Payload Project Scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center. My group is responsible for payload development of experiments involving human subjects primarily for Spacelab missions. Our work starts even before an experiment is proposed: we advise NASA Headquarters on the stucture of the payload so that NASA can release a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) to investigators wishing to propose experiments for space.

When the proposals are selected, my group performs the Engineering Cost and Management (ECM) assessment to determine the cost of the engineering needed to modify the experiment for space flight. We define the design and operation of the experiment for the Shuttle environment, help the investigators collect their data, and obtain the final science reports for each experiment.

My Career Journey

Since I was about 10 years old, I had always wanted to work in the space program. While the manned space program wasn't a reality at that time, there were several science fiction television shows that spurred my interest in space. I grew up with the manned space program which further interested me. I started at NASA right after finishing up my Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1970.

I had applied for post-doctoral positions at Ames Research Center in California, but one day was talking to an old classmate, Chuck Sawin, who had finished his Ph.D. at Berkeley the prior year. Dr. Sawin convinced me to come to Houston to the NASA Johnson Space Center. Dr. Sawin was supporting the manned space flight program at Boeing. I was convinced, and obtained a post-doctoral position with the National Research Council. My first work was on Apollo missions 14 through 17, doing cardiac output testing on the Apollo astronauts.

I later worked in the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) and Skylab programs. When my post-doctoral position was complete after two years, I transferred over to Technology Incorporated (what is now Krug) and worked for them for 7 years on a contract they had with NASA. Later I worked for MATSCO for 5 years, when MATSCO won the contract that Technology Incorporated had had with NASA. Finally I joined NASA in 1984.

Likes/Dislikes about career

It can take a long time to develop a payload, and can sometimes be very frustrating, but it is very gratifying to watch the investigators get their data. I was fortunate to participate in the first Spacelab (SL-1) in the early 80's, and am participating in the last Spacelab (Neurolab) in the late 90's. I've had a 40 year period of really doing what I wanted to do, and I don't think many people can say that!

Preparation for Career

I began my college career as a chemistry major but switched after the first year. I still was interested in working in the space program, and had come across physiology in the course catalog. I also had a friend who was a physiology major, and when hearing about the course of study, I switched my major. I obtained my undergraduate degree in physiology, then went on to pursue my Ph.D. in physiology.

While at school, I was fortunate to work with an early university-related NASA researcher doing high altitude physiology research on primates. I was actually able to participate in the experimentation done aboard the Biosatellite 3 mission.


Find what you like to do, then determine a field of study that will help you achieve that goal. Beyond that, students with an interest in space life sciences should go on to obtain their Ph.D. or M.D. degrees. Historically, the other degrees don't get you as far.


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