Meet: Alan Wood
Data Systems Specialist
What I do:
My job title for Neurolab is data systems specialist. I have played
a major role in the development of the electronic data collection system
that collects animal maintenance data. Before flight, values such as food
and water consumption and animal weights are measured and put into a database.
I helped to design the databases and wrote programs to store values, analyze
the data and generate reports. It is called the Electronic Data Collection
System/Electronic Data Analysis System (EDCS/EDAS) and is used by the
science team to help determine which animals are healthy and suitable
for flight and ground control.
My Career Journey
I didn't really decide on this career, it kind of came to me. After
I graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Philosophy,
I managed a flight school and taught aviation. It was there that I started
using computers and working on databases. I later started an information
management consulting company and came to NASA in 1990 to work on the
Life Science Data Archive (LSDA). The LSDA stores NASA Life Sciences flight
information and is available to anyone with web access. From there I worked
on other projects at NASA including the EDCS/EDAS project with Frank King
Likes/Dislikes about career
The positives of this job are working with some very interesting people
and the opportunity to work on the civilian space program. I think it
is important to further our knowledge of the universe and to stimulate
the curiosity of young minds. Some of the negatives aspects are that it
is a high pressure job, and with any high pressure work environment, it
can lead to a lot of stress.
It can be difficult to travel so much. We have to be at Kennedy Space
Center for long periods of time preparing for the launch and it is hard
to be away from home for so long. But it is worth it when you see the
shuttle launch, it is absolutely incredible. It is also rewarding and
fun to work so closely with a highly committed team tightly focused on
a common goal.
Preparation for Career
I was interested in computers since I was a kid. I used to belong to
a science club of the month. One month I got a kit to build my own analog
computer and I became fascinated with the ability to do calculations.
One of the uses of this computer was to figure out trajectories of these
model rockets my friend and I were making and launching. I also got a
telescope that was pretty amazing because you could see the moons of Jupiter
with it. This was at the beginning of the space program in the late 50's.
I was captivated by it, never dreaming that one day I would be working
I earned my degree in Philosophy which was very valuable in terms of
being able to understand and get to the root of processes and to be able
to conceptualize how the information flows and how it can be managed.
My Philosophy degree taught me how to think. My college degree in general
taught me how to use libraries, how to not be afraid of things that I
didn't know. It taught me to be curious and that curiosity was a good
thing. I didn't need to be intimidated by something I didn't understand,
I learned to see new and unfamiliar things as opportunities.
One of the most important things for any career in the information age
is to develop communication skills, specifically how to write. No matter
what you do, you're going to have to write. Whether your an astronaut,
or a chemist, or a programmer, your going to need to be able to communicate
your design plans, your activities or whatever it is you do. No matter
what it is that you do, if you can't communicate, it will put a limit
your possibilities and how far you can go.
I have been influenced by many people but at NASA, some of my mentors
are Dr. Paul Callahan, the Ames Life Science Data Archive Program Manager
and Frank King, Engineer in Code SLE, and Richard Mains, a NASA information
systems subcontractor. Paul has always emphasized sitting down and defining
the requirements of a system BEFORE you start trying to build it. This
is absolutely necessary to avoid costly design flaws. Frank King provided
opportunities and training in the engineering side of the house. Richard
Mains was an important mentor, opening doors and teaching me how to do
An earlier influence would be my high school math teacher, Pryor Ray
Pruitt. He sparked my excitement in math and geometry. You can blame him
for getting me where I am today!
I like flying, and teaching aviation taught me a lot about developing
procedures. It helped me to gain confidence that I could do things that
I might be afraid of initially. When I taught aviation I noticed that
everyone that approached it had some fear. The only difference between
those who failed and those who got their licenses was the will or motivation
to overcome the fear. It isn't a difference of some were fearful and some
were not, everyone was fearful of hitting the ground too hard, or getting
too far away from it. Everyone has fear but some people work through it.
I like to sing, I've sung since I was a child. It is a good way to get
out of my head and relax. I'm active in my church and find that having
a spiritual community is really important to a full (and sane) life especially
when so involved with the technical and scientific community at work.