Meet: BJ Navarro
Ames Research Center
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
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
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 .
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.
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
B.J.'s family at the launch
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Learn more from my NeurOn Chat
May 19, l998