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Meet: BJ Navarro

Stowage Manager
Ames Research Center

photo of b j navarro

My Journals

What I do:

My job here is stowage manager. That means that I pack the space shuttle with all the experiment hardware: little things that the astronaut crew needs for our scientific experiments in space. I'm not in charge of any of the things that are actually hard, rack mounted. I make sure that all the things that support the animals and the experiments in space are there and packed appropriately so the crew can get them out in the most efficient manner.

My job could be associated with packing for a camping trip. This mission is for 17 days, and they have 15 different experiments that they're going to do for us, so it'd be like going camping and saying "I'm going to stay out in the woods for 17 days, and while I'm there I've got 15 different things that I'm going to discover, like to answer some questions about the trees or the plants or the animals."

I'm the person that makes sure these tools and their uses are documented and meet all the requirements that we have regarding things like containment and safety, keeping in mind they'll be used in microgravity (which means they float). As instruments are designed we have to estimate how much space they're going to take and put it in the allocated space making sure it doesn't take them all day to get ready to do an experiment. We'd hate to spend 5 hours to get ready to do an experiment only to spend 3 minutes doing it! So that's my job!

There are about 260 items on board! The last time I counted, I think we had about 22 lockers of various sizes. I've got to consider size and weight when assigning things to lockers. Sometimes a designer will say an item's going to weigh 12 pounds, and when it's finished it weighs 22. There may be lots of space in the locker, but if the locker only accepts 25 pounds, we wind up with lots of space we can't use! If you move things around, you've got to change the procedure. You've got to be smart about what you should change and what you shouldn't change.

I kind of call myself the glue, because a lot of people help me do my job, and I make sure that each person knows how important their job is for the next person to do their job, so that it all comes together at the end and can be presented to the astronaut crew and stowed so that they won't have any problems in space doing what they need to do. Along that path I have to make sure there is training hardware so the crew can practice what they're going to do in space. That training hardware has to reflect exactly the equipment that they'll use in space. This is a long process. It takes 2 1/2 years, so sometimes along the way there are changes, so we have to make sure that when the astronaut crew goes to the final review to look at everything they say, "That looks exactly the way that I used the item in the spacelab trainer mock-up to do my practice runs." If it doesn't look the same, or they don't recall that it looks the same, it might cause a problem in space, and it certainly causes a problem at the review! After the review, I have to chase down any problems and answer the questions or get them solved as quickly as possible. It's my responsibility to close the loop on all of those actions, whether I actually do the work or direct someone to do it. So that's what I do.

Likes/Dislikes about career

Likes and dislikes: One of my favorite time is the middle part, right before we do our experiment verification tests here at Ames, where we actually mock-up the spacelab. That's our first check of all the pieces together. We put everything in the lockers and pretend we're the astronauts who are actually performing the experiment. That's pretty exciting. Right before that is generally when we first meet the crew, explain what we're doing and get the opportunity to show them our hardware and how it's going to perform. That's cool!

The second exciting time is when we start shipping everything out to be placed in the mock-up at Johnson Space Center. I get to go out there and integrate it in the mock-up, and get it ready for the crew to use in Houston. That's pretty exciting!

The best part is when you do the real thing! Usually after Houston there are problems to fix. When I start delivering the actual flight hardware about 6 months prior to flight, that is really exciting! So the first Spacelab bench review, where we have the entire crew,7 members plus backups go and actually look at all the hardware in the foam in the lockers. That's really exciting! Then from there, about six months from launch, it gets very stressful and very exciting all at the same time.

My most unfavorite part is when the crew wants something changed when we're so far to the right of the schedule. In some cases they find things that are truly wrong, we all know they're wrong, and we just charge in and we fix them as fast as we can. But when it's late in the schedule and people are very exhausted because we've done a lot of revisions already, it's not my favorite thing to come back to say, "We've got to do it again. The crew would like it changed!" I see the whole big picture, and I know how much work is going to have to be done to make it the way they want it, and sometimes I'm not totally convinced a change is necessary. But the crew members have the last say, and sometimes that's difficult for me.

It's like when your parents have a problem with some decision you've made, and instead of just sitting down and talking with you about why you've done it and letting you speak your piece, they just start firing away at you! They've already made up their mind, so it's not going to matter what logic you use that was different from theirs. You just have to sit there and take it. So, you see, every kid is getting training for my job. It's not fun, but it's a necessary part of many jobs. It doesn't happen frequently so that's good.

My Career Journey

I wanted to be a teacher so I went to San Jose State to get a degree in elementary education and a teaching credential. When I graduated there just weren't any teaching jobs. While I was going to school I was working for the government part time in quality assurance and enjoyed my job. I had a mentor there that thought that, since there weren't any teaching jobs, and I really didn't want to move because I was engaged to be married, that I should be a contract specialist, because I was good with words on paper. So I took a job in procurement after college. It was fun for about 6 months, then I decided it wasn't that much fun, so I looked for a different career.

I came upon logistics management. It's similar to teaching since you have to have great communication skills and manage a diversity of projects. So I got into a special training program for two years with the department of the Navy in logistics management. I had an opportunity after my training to become either an inventory manager or a budget analyst. I opted to become an inventory manager.

I was very fortunate to be assigned to the test instrumentation hardware that converts a production Trident missile into a test missile that are launched from a submarine to do practice launches and proof test the launching system after the submarine has been overhauled. When we needed new components for Trident 2, I was also trained in the hardware production. At that point we moved some of the production instrumentation to a Florida facility which is actually at Cape Canaveral. So previous to working for NASA I'd already been there, but not really there, because they won't let you go past the Air Force side. I became an integrated logistics support manager for the Trident 2 systems, which meant when they designed the "bigger and badder" missile, I was instrumental in getting our King's Bay facility up and running.

I kept moving along in my career headed for something. I went to a logistics space conference, and I saw a preliminary design of space station. Somebody talked about logistics support of the space station, and I said, "You know, that's what I want to do. Enough of this submarine stuff. I'm not really into bombs anymore. I want to do Space stuff!" So, I tried to work towards that objective to get there.

I was turned down for a promotion and was seeking a way to get more supervisory experience. I was selected for a special leadership program, funded by the Navy. Part of the program was to work at another location for 6 weeks transferring the skills you were learning to a different area. I knew someone who worked here at Ames Research Center, so I called them up and said "I want to come over there and work for 6 weeks as part of my training. The Navy will pay my way. I'm free labor. Put me to work!" That's how I got into what I'm doing.

I came into Space Life Sciences Projects Office, and I was assigned to the crew liaison person for NASA, Annette Rodriguez, who puts the training together for the astronauts. She became my mentor. When my stay was extended, I got to participate in SLS-1 helping to put the timeline together for the surrogate crew. After I went back to the Navy I kept in contact with Bonnie Dalton [Life Sciences Division Deputy Chief]. I made sure she knew that I would realy enjoy coming over here to work. So that's kind of how I got here.

Once I was hired they put me on a Cosmos mission, and I had an opportunity to share and office with Jim Connelly before he became the branch chief and worked Cosmos 2044. My duty sheet can tell you all of the good missions I've worked since then. Some of the highlights were:

The first mission I worked stowage on was with Norm Thagart, who was the first astronaut in Mir space station. It was my first experience working on my own and being one of the leaders on a mission. It was a small payload for Ames, but it was really a great experience.

SLS-2 was the first major experience that I was the stowage manager of. It was the largest mission that we had flown to that point, and I was given the responsibility of all the stowage on that mission. It was a phenomenal experience.

After SLS-2 I wanted to go further than I had in SLS-2 and work the POCC (Payloads Operations Control Center) and be in on the air to ground moves and do the turnovers at Kennedy. I wanted to expand out into operations because my job title here is really payloads operations specialist . I wanted to make sure that I had a vast knowledge of all the operations. So that's why I signed up for Neurolab.

Neurolab has been a difficult mission, but now we're almost there. I'll be down at Kennedy for the launch. This is only my second launch. My family's coming down for this launch, because I'm thinking that I may never have the opportunity to do this again, since this is the last spacelab mission. It's kind of sad. My family has been involved in the fact that I'm often not home, so this is kind of their reward. My kids are going to miss a week of school, but they're going to learn about space-what I really do.

Preparation for Career

I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was in the 2nd grade, because I had a teacher that was handicapped. She was a good teacher, and I enjoyed her, and I said, "You know, I think I can do that. I think that's a good thing to do." So whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always said that I wanted to be a teacher.

I found out when I went to high school that to be a teacher you had to go to college. While going to college I got a job working for the government to support myself . It opened a whole new world to me. When I found I wouldn't be a teacher, I just tried to build on what I started with, taking all the multidisciplined things that I learned in college to see how they would fit into my new objectives.

That's why it's important to me when I work a mission to go out and do public relations, speaking for NASA to close the loop - to share the knowledge that I've gained with the taxpayers and their children and keep the dream alive. To say, "You can dream that you're going to do something and get there and share it to help somebody else get there."

My dream is to someday support space station, and I think that's going to happen for me. In 2002 if you come back and talk to me, I may be the logistics manager for space station here at Ames for the centrifuge facilities and the experiment facilities. You never know! It was a teacher that planted the seed, making sure that I had an objective. I just kind of latched onto that and used it to propel me toward college, get me through college and keep me going. Even though I'm not a teacher, everything I've learned in college, I've used.


Pick something to shoot for. It doesn't really matter if you change your mind later but find what you're good at, pick something that interests you, and then you'll be successful.

I think the fact that I picked something that required a college degree was significant. If I had picked a different career that didn't require college I probably would not have ended up in college. In hindsight I think that it was the best thing for me because I learned not only the skills of the job I was being trained to do, but I learned a lot of life skills. I learned how to support myself and finishing was very significant. It doesn't matter what you get a degree in, to start and finish shows something about your character. And a college degree will open doors. A door can open, and you can step in, but you need to come out of college with a desire to do your very best at whatever it is you're going to do to be successful with any college degree. So besides learning how to get assignments done, learn to be cooperative and understand what somebody else wants. That's all the tools you need to be successful at a job. I can't say enough about getting good grades and striving to go to college.

I think it's very important that you do your fact-finding in high school, and get all your grades in line, so that you know when you're a freshman what it is that you think you want to do. You may change your mind, but I think it's very important not to start college with an undeclared major. Otherwise you might get sidetracked and never finish. Learning to go through a long process and finish is good preparation. In my job I have a lot of hoops to jump through. It take three years to put a spacelab mission up. Like college, it takes a lot of persistence, patience, being proactive, positive, and stick-to-itiveness .

Personal Information

photo of b.j.'s son photo of youngest son I've been married for 18 years. I met my husband as a freshman in college, and we hung around together for 7 years before we got married. We got married in 1980 and waited 7 years to have our first child. I have a son named Mark who is 11 years old. I had my second child while I was working here with NASA. His name is Manuel and he's 6 years old. My oldest is in 6th grade and my youngest is in 1st.

My husband is just one year older than me and the thing that brought us together I think is our love of sports. I used to play a lot of different sports. I've never been one to stick to one sport. I played a lot of softball in high school and some in college at San Jose State. I like to play racketball, tennis, and bike. The one sport that I transitioned to as an adult was soccer. I play a lot of soccer. As a young adult I had a real desire to play for the Over-30s National Team, but unfortunately I blew my knee out a couple of times, and although I went through surgery and rehabilitation, I never could get back to the same level. Then I got pregnant, so I decided somebody was trying to tell me something.

Now in my spare time I coach my younger son's soccer team. I played trumpet in the high school band and in college. I now play trumpet in the Milpitas Community Concert Band. My children are involved in basketball, little league and soccer, so my husband helps coach basketball. I'm not a great basketball player so my son likes to play one-on-one with me so he can beat me.

I like to make sure my kids have both arts and sports. My oldest son participates in Rainbow Theater, and all the parents have to get involved, so I get to use my art knowledge (I wanted to be an artist when I was in about the 8th grade). So I get to paint every once in awhile, helping to do stage setups.

photo of bj with husband I follow soccer: the world cup teams. We go to a lot of soccer games. We're San Francisco Giants fans - I have season tickets so we go and watch a lot of baseball. Both of my sons take dance. I get joy from the job that I do here and sharing that with the students that I mentor. and watching my kids grow. So I spend a lot of time when I'm not at work with my children helping them with their school work and participating in whatever activities they're doing. But soccer is pretty high on the list. If I were going to change careers I would probably do something sports related.

The one reason that I think I have been so successful in my career is that I have had a husband that is supportive of me. When I'm on travel he takes care of the kids. He does everything! We share all of the responsibilities at home. In order for a husband or a wife to be successful you have to have a distribution of labor and an understanding of who's doing what and what's most important on any given day. Sometimes his job is more important and I would have to step back. Right now it's kind of flipped the other way: I'm playing the leading role as far as career, and he's playing the home role, but we work together. But my real success is because my husband Marciano (I call him Rocky) has always been there to support me.

B.J.'s family at the launch

Click on thumbnail to see full sized
bj's family poses at ksc bj's family at viewing site bj's family bj's family in front of sign that reads 0 days to launch

Learn more from my NeurOn Chat
May 19, l998


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