Meet: Chris Maese
Payload Project Manager
Ames Research Center
What I do:
I'm the Neurolab Payload Manager for the Science Payloads Operations
Branch (SLO). I am responsible for ensuring the 15 experiments on Neurolab
are conducted. I am also Crew Training Manager for all payloads developed
by the Life Sciences Division, and I am the Astronaut Office Liaison for
I've been on the Neurolab project for three and a half or four years;
taking it through the definition phase, putting the science experiments
together, understanding the science and how the hardware relates to it,
then working with the processes that really set up the guidelines for
how we have to operate in flight. You have to remember that things float
in space which raises many new safety issues. When you perform an experiment
in a spacelab environment, you have to make sure all fixatives are contained
and sharp objects are not floating around. We have to ensure the crew's
safety at all times.
We take the experiments and put the space perspective on it. Then we
come up with ways (we're real flexible and creative around here in trying
to figure out how we do this) to meet this safety rule, and meet this
hardware constraint, meet this spatial constraint, etc. Then we roll this
all into: here's an operator (astronaut) that may not be feeling too well
that day. How do we simplify things so that this person can be our technician
in flight? That way we get the best results we can get.
My Career Journey
The way I started here was really serendipitous; I didn't have an objective
to work here. I earned my Bachelor's degree from the University of Santa
Clara. I was planning to go to medical school but the first time I applied,
I was placed on a waiting list. As I was waiting, I took some classes
at San Jose State. I didn't get accepted [into medical school] that year,
and I applied a second time. In the meantime I continued taking classes.
I had the basic concepts from my undergraduate classes, but I wanted to
take other classes that I thought I could benefit from. My fallback from
not going to medical school was to teach. I was thinking of going into
zoology, because I really liked zoology. I thought, "I could teach that."
The second time I applied to medical school I was placed on a waiting
list again. By that time I was thinking that I should think of other career
directions. I decided to finish my graduate degree at San Jose State University.
One requirement for the graduate degree was a research project, but my
department didn't have the money to support one. That's how I found out
about a program that was a cooperative agreement offered through San Jose
State and NASA. They would take a student in, provide a stipend, and the
student would do some work at NASA Ames Research Center.
I was awarded a NASA/San Jose State University grant to conduct research
with a NASA Ames Research Center Investigator (Dr. Emily Morey-Holton)
in the area of bone physiology and an emphasis on histomorphometry. She
had a project that she needed done, and I fit into that role. I had taken
some histology classes and I knew anatomy and physiology, so it worked
out well. I continued my research, and while I was here, Emily made funding
available so that I could continue part time. Later it turned into a full
time job, and eventually I became the manager of her lab.
The research project had been started and all I needed to do was finish
it up and analyze the data. In order to analyze the data you have to process
all these tissues. The process took a long time. When we started to analyze
the first batch, the markers that were supposed to be incorporated in
the tissues weren't there, so either the injections had not been given
correctly, or for whatever reason they didn't get incorporated into the
bones. So I lost my markers and I had to start the whole study all over
again. It was supposed to be a two and a half year study and ended up
taking over 5 years.
By the time I was able to complete my research project, I was thinking
of getting my Ph.D. As I looked into it and found out more about the time
involved, the difficulty getting funding and the fact that there was no
guarantee of a job afterwards, I decided not to get Ph.D. and looked into
industry instead. I applied for a job involving the training role that
I have now, and was hired. It incorporated my skills nicely. I could draw
on my experience as a lab instructor and faculty member to refine the
crew training program and integrate it into the flight cycles. As a trainer,
you have to keep up with everything. You have to make sure that the crew
members are trained to do the experiments; that they know all the nuances
of not only the science, but also of the hardware tools involved.
After about a year and a half my current job opened and I became a NASA
employee. I don't know if I would say it was "being at the right place
at the right time," as much as being recognized for doing good work and
knowing that there were things that I could offer. That's why I believe
I was selected to fill this position.
In working with the astronauts and the various organizations that support
the astronaut office, I have become the "Astronaut Office Liaison." This
means when anyone in the Life Sciences Division needs something from an
astronaut, I am the single point of contact to the Astronaut Office. This
establishes a clear line of communication and helps to keep everyone's
understanding clear and consistent. This has really helped us as we have
moved from Spacelab being primarily for human habitat, to Spacelab flying
habitats for animals. We have so many considerations to address and because
of my experience with the crew (understanding their needs, the condition
of spaceflight and its requirements etc.) I can be a central point for
opinions in assessing the hardware.
I've been involved in some of the development of the ARC hardware where
we address these human factors and concerns. My belief is that we're not
building hardware for astronauts; we're building hardware for operators.
We know how this hardware is used, we know what's expected of it, we want
to find out how this hardware could potentially fail, we want to know
how we could repair it. Through all this keeping in mind: How is the operator
going to relate to this piece of flight hardware? This is our one opportunity
to do this experiment. It's got to work! The person using it has got to
really understand this hardware: all the bells and whistles. That's something
that I bring to this office; how I relate with the development process
Preparation for Career
I had an aunt who was a nurse. She was the first in our family to end
up with a college degree, and so she was kind of a role model. I spent
my summer vacations working as an orderly in a hospital, that helped to
There was one time in my schooling that I asked myself, "what am I even
doing in this field? I don't even know if I can survive this field." Then
I went around and looked at other disciplines and thought of other career
options. That made me think, "you know, I love biology! I enjoy it. It's
exciting, and I like trying to understand it!" So I decided I can survive
this, and I did. From early on I wanted to go into the medical field,
and in school, they were really pumped on making sure that people are
looking for a medical career, a dental career or a professional career.
Being just a regular biologist wasn't something they promoted so you didn't
really feel it was an option. Naively I went through this thinking that
nothing else is out there. Amazingly there are a lot of careers in biology.
It always helps to have some kind of knowledge base as you go into your
career. I'm convinced that if you take knowledge and use that knowledge
in a way that allows you to see things in different ways, you are capable
of learning something new. You never have to think that just because you're
in biology, you have to do biology. You can do many things. That's where
I find myself now. If you have common sense (that's a critical element)
and you can take information and utilize it, then you can do anything.
I would never have dreamed that I would be in this career path with a
biology degree, because first, I never knew that this existed, and second,
it's something that people really don't consider.
As a kid I always followed NASA with the early Gemini missions and the
Apollo missions. As a matter of fact, I once got into trouble for getting
so absorbed in an Apollo launch that I was an hour and a half late to
school. I had to go to the principal's office and spend my recess and
lunch in the office to make up that time. Back then I never thought that
I would be doing what I'm doing now, but it's all connected. This same
aunt that was a nurse ended out going to New York and came back with this
poster of the astronauts' first walk on the moon. I still have that poster.
It's interesting: I was always interested in NASA and space flight, then
I went on and I was interested in biology, and boom, years later, the
two connect. Sometimes things just happen the way they do! Is that fate?
I don't know - there's something out there!
Likes/Dislikes about career
There are good days and there are bad days, but all the bad days disappear
with each success. I think that's what has made it possible to survive
these past years.
What's really important in any career that you choose is that you need
to experience it. You need to find some way to get involved in that area;
whether it's on a volunteer basis, a part-time position, or whatever.
It's critical that you get your foot in the door, because frankly, though
you may have a resume in front of you that says that you have taken certain
courses, and you have that level of practical application; it's the "real"
application in the work force, or in a company, or in an institution,
that helps you put the foot in the door. Also people get to see your work.....what
you're capable of doing. Often, it's who you know, and where you are at
the time that allows things to open up. Anyone pursuing any kind of career
or job opportunity should go and spend some time doing it. We have a lot
of great career programs through various JC's [junior colleges] and high
schools here at Ames. If people are interested they get their foot in
the door that way. Then you can determine if you want to pursue it or
not and see what other areas or options you can look forward to. Working
in Emily's office opened up a lot of doors. To me it was the means to
an end, and that was to get my degree. I had no idea that I'd be working
in that lab, or that I'd be working a full time job -- it never occurred
to me that that's where that was going. But again, hard work, discipline,
and learning really pays off. You're constantly learning. If you ever
give up on learning, you're cutting off your opportunities out there,
and that's the fun part! Humans like to learn.
I have a Shar-Pei, her name is Sophie. She's a very loving dog. I think
she thinks she's human. I often joke around, when I leave her at home
that she has invited the neighbors over, and she's watching TV, because
she's such a character. She's really quite an amazing dog. She's getting
older, she's losing part of her eyesight, so watching that is kind of
difficult, but she's a wonderful dog. I like to work in the garden. It's
the simplest decision I have to make: is this a flower or a weed? That's
very relaxing! There is a sense of accomplishment. Most of the things
that I do at work (while we may deliver items and meet schedule dates)
don't give me a sense of closure, because the "real thing" (i.e. flight)
hasn't really happened. It's still open-ended for me since I'm looking
at the whole picture. Everyone else has their various tasks, and they
feel a sense of closure, but for me, I don't feel that. So I work the
garden knowing that, "Hey, this flower garden is looking really good!"
It's the simple things.
I like to bike and bowl, and I like reading. I enjoy reading a lot.
I travel frequently so I always have a book with me. I read science fiction
and I like historical books. I like medieval history. I just read whenever
I can. It reduces stress. When I'm in line waiting for my ticket, or my
flight is delayed, no problem: I've got a book. I read 2-3 books and a
couple of magazines at the same time. I go from book to book. If one becomes
less interesting, I move on; it helps me get through it. Frighteningly,
people aren't reading that much these days, and that's a sad commentary
. TV is entertaining, but that's all it is - entertainment. Reading stimulates
the imagination, because you can picture and you can dream. TV is so formatted,
it doesn't allow us to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Reading
is a totally different avenue of relaxation and enjoyment - at least for
I like to cook. Sometimes they're not too successful, but things usually
work out and it's kind of fun to play around with different food combinations.
I like being around people. Whether people enjoy being around me these
days, I don't know. They may think, "Here comes Chris, he probably wants
me to do something or he's mad because I didn't do something!" But I really
enjoy people's company, and I can't stop talking!