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Meet: Marilyn Vasques

Logistics Operations Manager

photo of marilyn vasques


What I do:

My title is Logistics Operations Manager, which means that I am the lead for a group of people who prepare laboratories to support most non-human life sciences shuttle payloads. Whether it's cells, crickets or mice, we are usually involved.

This is how it works:

  • The scientists prepare a list of everything that they need at the launch and landing sites and turn it over to us. This document is called the Logistics Integrated Requirement Document, which we affectionately call the LIRD. When we get a LIRD, it can be small, for example, 200 line items or very large as it is for Neurolab. For Neurolab it is almost 3,000 line items. One line item could be 15 microscopes or it might be lettuce to feed the crickets.

  • This list is then shared with Kennedy Space Center (KSC) personnel who take the lead role in setting up the KSC facility and we work with them to set up the laboratories.

  • We also prepare the contingency landing site, Dryden Flight Research Center, California. We take the lead for this set up. The facility we use at Dryden is called the Payload Receiving Facility. Each payload specifies whether they want a full up, complete duplicate of what they have at KSC or whether they want just to put whatever it is on an airplane and fly it to Kennedy. Part of my job is to keep that facility up and running and for use by each payload. It is difficult to manage when it's 300 miles away.

This all takes a great deal of coordination with people around the country so when I first came on board I set up a weekly meeting with representatives from Kennedy, Dryden and ourselves [Ames Research Center] so we could make sure that everybody is in the loop for all the upcoming payloads.

Another part of my job is managing the 15 laboratories that we have here at Ames. We maintain laboratories, keep up the safety codes, make sure they are stocked and check them out to individuals.

You might ask where we get all the items for the all these laboratories. My group has a warehouse that we use and track all the inventory on an electronic database. We put reusable items back into our inventory after use so that the next time somebody needs to use something we've got it.

My Career Journey

I have a strong science background. I worked in the Student Space Biology program when I was in high school. I was summoned to my principal's office and told that they had volunteered me to be in this program over at NASA. I said, "O.K." So one day a week I'd come over to NASA in the afternoon and listen to a lecture, and the next day I would spend the entire day at NASA working in one of the scientist's (Dr. Paul Callahan's) laboratories.

I have a bachelors degree in Zoology from U.C. Davis. Not long after I finished college, I got a phone call from one of the scientists who worked in the same hallway that I did when I was in high school. Dr. Richard Grindeland asked me if I'd come work for him. So I became a contractor and worked in his laboratory as a technician. My second week of work I was sent to Kennedy Space Center to practice an experiment that would be done on samples returning from the SL-3 shuttle mission. Soon I was managing a suite of labs. Our second mission was supposed to go on Challenger. When the accident happened, the experiment was of course put on hold. Dr. Grindeland was then asked by NASA headquarters to take the lead on the biospecimen sharing program with the Russian space program. The next thing I knew I was on my way to Russia.

I worked on two Cosmos missions 1887 and 2044 . I was definitely the youngest and the only woman working on that crew. It was quite an experience to go over there at that time (that was in the '87-90 time frame). I made 6 trips to Russia to work with samples from their Biosatellites. Working with the Russians was a fabulous experience.

When then shuttle missions started again, NASA offered the Russian scientists samples from one of our missions. I was asked to watch over the Russians' interests in the shuttle program. I was brought on to the Space Life Sciences 1 (SLS-1) payload as head of the dissection team for the biospecimen sharing program. It was really nice to step into that role and keep up the working relationships I had developed with my Russian colleagues.

After that I went back to school and got my Masters Degree in Projects and Systems Management. When I finished that degree I was called up by the division chief of SLO [Science Payloads Operations Branch], (the division I'm in now) saying they wanted to create a new position overseeing logistics and integrating it with the other centers. They felt it would be a great use of not only my science and payloads background, but also of my new degree. So here I am!

Advice

One of my philosophies is, "No job is ever too small." In my first job I was a helper: I labeled tubes and did a little bit of dissection work. A couple of payloads later, I was the lead of the dissection team and training people who were training the astronauts. Each thing is a step. You might be sent to KSC for some small job but now you're familiar with the place and personnel and might be on the top of the list for another, more dynamic job the next time.

One of my students is a good example. She worked hard for me and was very interested in science. Our science department was doing a science experiment last fall, for which they needed some people to rush samples for one lab to another. It's kind of a boring job. For twelve hours you run up and down the hallway and hand samples from one person to another. My student was very interested in helping in any way possible and did a good job. The science personnel were so happy to have her that when the next experiment came up (it was at Kennedy Space Center), they said, "If she's available, we would like her to come." So she got to go to KSC and had a wonderful experience. It all started with a boring, tedious job that she did enthusiastically and well.

It always pays off to do what you can and do the best you can. People have recognized that in me: that I work very hard at whatever it is. I haven't tried to climb up the corporate ladder or anything, it's just been that I'm dependable, and I keep at it, and people recognize that and say next time, "I want that person." That's how things have moved for me.

Follow those things that are interesting to you and it will probably open doors that will (as long you work hard and distinguish yourself as a reliable and a dependable person) lead you where you want to go.

Likes/Dislikes about career

The positives are, of course, working on the Space program. I think travel is a positive and a negative. It's nice to go somewhere new but it is tedious too. When you have not traveled it seems really exciting, but when you have to go on four or five big trips a year it's not quite as exciting. For one of my payloads I actually left home the first of April, and I was at either Kennedy or at Dryden until the first of August. That's a long time living out of a suitcase

Another negative is that it's difficult in this kind of a business to see many results. It takes so many people contributing so many things to a project that sometimes it is hard to see the impact you make. It does feel pretty wonderful when the payload launches though. There's also just so much to do that you could be here all day every day and still have plenty to do.

Preparation for Career

I have always been interested in science and animals and everything to do with them. I can remember when I was ten, I told my sister I was going to go to U.C. Davis and get a degree in Zoology in four years and that's what I did.

Each step opened a door. Distinguishing myself in high school gave me the opportunity to work at NASA which, as you know, helped me get my career started there. It also gave me the opportunity to work in a student program they had at Davis. This put me on the fast track for acceptance to Davis. I was accepted within a month of applying while friends were still trying to figure out where to apply.

My only career goal was to someday manage a lab. So I was kind of perplexed when two years out of college I had reached my goal. I then found myself working on one shuttle payload after another. Each payload takes about two years so 2 shuttle mission and 2 Cosmos missions and 8 years have gone by. My roles change for each payload so the job stays dynamic and interesting but payload support became my career. We'll have to see what opens up after Neurolab. There ought to be something for me in the Space Station era.

Influences

I was very influenced by a couple of my teachers in high school who, in particular, spent a lot of time with me. One of them, of course, was one of my science teachers, Mr. Wong. He encouraged me to take as many science classes as I could. I was the kind of kid who, by the time that it got to finals, the teacher asked me to help set up the finals, because my grades were so high. Those kinds of teachers putting their trust in me helped me a lot. photo of cat

Personal Information

photo of snake I have a pet snake named Rasputin. He is now 19 years old. He's a corn snake, a relative to the rat snake. He's a great pet. I also have a 2 year old tiger tabby cat named Kosh. I have a water garden that has floating plants, fish and snails and a bog with carnivorous plants.

My whole family lives in this area. My father retired out of Moffett Field [where NASA Ames Research Center is located]. He's a lieutenant commander in the Navy, retired. So, we all lived on this base when we were younger. My sister was married in the church here, so we have big ties to Moffett. I have two brothers and a sister. My sister's the only one married, and she has two kids in their teens. I enjoy being an aunt and spending time with them. Since we're all close to each other it makes all the holidays very easy. We all get together for every birthday and all those kinds of things.

Last year I took up scuba diving. For the first time I found a hobby that's really me! A lot of people are really into something and I always liked biking or skiing but I haven't been "into" anything. But now scuba's for me! I have to carry about 80 pounds of stuff out to the water, which is hard for me since I only weigh about 95 pounds. Once in the water, however, it is just amazing. I highly recommend to everyone that they try it. It is absolutely incredible. We go all along the Monterey coast, but now that I have this hobby, when I go to Florida I go scuba diving off the coast there. I took a vacation in Venezuela, and I went diving there and plan to go to the Cayman Islands after Neurolab.

One of my most interesting dives, was at Disney's Epcot Center. Someone told me that they heard that you could scuba dive in the aquariums there. I followed up on it. It's that old thing, you know, you have to follow up on things to make them happen. I made a few calls and, sure enough, for a fee you can go diving in the aquarium. So a couple of my friends and I went and had a great time. There are people all along the glass (part of one of the rides, the restaurant and the viewing area) so you can wave to them and make faces at them. There are two sharks in the tank with you, and sea turtles, and rays. It was really quite an experience! A video clip of the Epcot dive may be viewed using RealVideo player


 
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