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Meet: Angela Wray

Payload Operations Manager
NASA Ames Research Center

photo of angie wray


What I do:

I'm the payload operations manager for the Operations Department as a whole for Lockheed Martin and most of my team is supporting Neurolab. Our group includes all of the crew trainers, payload operations support, payload test and integrations (the guys that test the hardware and ship it down here and get it ready to fly.) We also do ground data system development and those same functions for the Space Station organization as well. So everything that's not directly science and isn't engineering design, my team pretty much does. Bruce Yost is a supervisor under my group and also Shahn Spratt. Bruce focuses on the payload support function, and Shahn on the hardware test and integration side.

My Career Journey

I started here [at Ames Research Center] fourteen years ago as a technician. I had worked for GE before at the National Weather Service for five years: I did satellite operations and equipment maintenance. I found out about a job at Ames and went down just to find out what they did. I got a job offer the same day, and the rest is history!

I was a tech (an electro-mechanical technician) and did a lot of the hardware tests and integration work that Shahn's group supports now. I have my old crane operator's licence and my key to the tool box. I kind of transitioned through the organization. I moved from a general tech into areas of specific responsibility for some of the hardware. The RAHF, for example that we're flying for Neurolab, was one of my first projects. I worked with the redesign of that system after the SL-3 flight, I grew with the organization and was given responsibility for the RAHF and modules. I went into an engineering specialist role from there with a more specific responsibility for the planning and implementation of all the testing.

From that point I moved into the position of payloads system planner. I was responsible for all the requirements definition, the integrated experiments requirement documents, the IDPs, all the turnover documentation, major payload reviews, PDRs [preliminary design reviews] and critical design reviews for the payload as a whole. In SLS-1, I worked as the payloads system planner. When SLS-2 came along, (the third flight of the rodent RAHFs) I was the deputy payloads manager. Basically, I was the project lead from the contractor's side, and Tad Savage was the payload manager for NASA.

We had a very successful payload and worked really hard to integrate our team. We worked with a real focus on joining ops and engineering and science with a lot of designs being done collectively. We had a really successful launch, both from the science success and the team dynamics. Our goal when we first set out was to make sure that the team that worked the SLS-2 payload was as excited about the payload when it got ready to fly as they were the first day that they were chosen to work on it. And we pulled it off!

Shortly after that was over I decided to leave Lockheed, and I took a job with the Space Station development group working for Martin Marietta, still at Ames. I worked there for about a year and a half, and then the contracts merged, and the companies merged. At that point I was the operations manager for Martin and with the merger, I became the supervisor. It's been a year sinceI became the department manager. I manage the operations group on both the flight payloads side (which is where we do all the shuttle work) and Space Station (where we do our station development.)

Preparation for Career

I grew up back east outside of Buffalo, New York in a two-family house, where my grandfather lived downstairs, and we lived upstairs. I grew up with three brothers. I was the one in the garage with my grandfather working on lawn mowers, the tool shag for Grandpa. My grandfather spoke very little English, so I even got my bossy skills back then! Whenever he wanted me to go and get him a tool, I would make him ask for it in English. When I was probably about 8 years old, Grandpa said he wanted a screwdriver. So I went into the house, and I got him an assortment of screwdrivers. When I came out he said, "Oh, no, no, no, that's not what I want," like I didn't know what a screwdriver was. So I, hands on my hips, little tom-boy haircut retorted, "Let me see what you need Grandpa." He showed me what he was doing, so I said, "You want pliers!" I went into the house, and I got him pliers, and I said, "Pliers, Grandpa, now say it! You have to say it! Can't have this until you say, 'These are pliers,'" I guess that was kind of a foundation for my mechanical inclinations as a kid.

I was always real interested in how things worked. I was always interested in finding ways to do things differently. I actually started my career path more in photography through high school. I fell into this role with the weather service as a photo tech, doing the old fashioned weather loops for which you had to use a photo process to develop a weather satellite data that they used on the TV and the newspaper. So that got me in the field of satellite ops and that's what introduced me to the payloads function at NASA Ames.

I was always very interested in the space program. We had the plaque on the wall that said, "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind" My father was a Kennedy fan so we grew up in awe of the whole space program and watched all the Apollo activities on an old black & white T.V. I never really dreamed that I would be a part of it.

Likes/Dislikes about career

I think what I like the most is knowing that I can make a difference for not just the project and how well it's done, but for the staff that works with me. I'm kind of a mom at work as well as at home. I like to look to make sure that we don't discount the personal side of what we do. I like being in a position now where I am able to do that. In SLS-2, I was as the project lead, although I wasn't in upper management I helped my team come through in spite of what was happening around us. Now I'm in a role where I can serve that function as well as making sure at the site level that we're doing things the way the need to be done across the board.

I enjoy having the opportunity to use all the things that I have learned to make a difference. I like being in a position where no matter what I ask anyone in my team to do I've pretty much done myself. It's not a matter of simply sending someone out to KSC, sending someone out to JSC, changing last minute plans, working weekends, building hardware, building feeders, whatever it is that we have to do as an ops team and not understanding the enormous effort that takes, I've done these things myself, and have a really good feel for how difficult it can be at times.

The biggest negative that I have right now is the relationship that we have within the Neurolab team; the fact that this team isn't as integrated as I'd like for it to be. I don't see the kind of spirit we had before in our office. It was very hard for me to come back into an organization I had left and see that it had been decentralized. It's more an emotional sense than anything. So this past year that I've been back, I've worked really hard to bring it back together. That's probably what pulls me down.

Advice

Don't worry so much about what you're going to be when you grow up, worry more about the kind of person you want to be. That's the advice I give my kids too. It's important to have a solid foundation, and understand the people skills that so many people lack.

And pursue your dream, always! Don't ever think that there's something that you can't do: young men and young women alike. Also, lead from your heart.

Influences

My grandfather was a chief influence, and my dad too. I was really very close to them. There were also one or two teachers in school that helped along the way. Within the development of my career, some of the people that I've worked with at Ames have been a great influence. I was 27 when I started working here and kind of grew up at Ames. I have met and worked with some outstanding people that have taught me a lot about, not just what we do, but how we do it and what's important. A wonderful NASA engineer, Mr. Dale Buckendahl, really taught me how to survive in the space program.

Personal Information

I've been married for almost 21 years, and have two sons; one is almost 16 and one is almost 21. They're both really wonderful people, but they're both so different. One follows his heart, and the other more his head. But they both tuck me in at night. So I'm lucky.

And my husband too. I'm lucky I'm surrounded by three great men! I have an absolutely wonderful, fantastic family life. My husband is extremely supportive of what I do. He gets a little frustrated at times with my long nights when I call and say, "I'm going to miss another train. I don't know when I'll be home." So that's a little source of frustration for him, but my whole family is really supportive.

I remember when I did a KC-135 flight a few years ago, and I was getting ready to go the night before I left. Michael who was about 15 year old at the time, came into the room as I was packing, and he said, "You know Mom, I just want you to know that I realize that what you're going to go do is really dangerous and that if anything were to happen to you, I'd know that you were doing something that you really wanted to do." I thought: Whoa, you're right, I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I hadn't really taken the time to think about that! But this is really an illustration of just how supportive they are. That's why it's been much easier it is for me to do what I've done, and to raise a family at the same time. It's not always easy for women to balance career goals and to balance child rearing. I definitely couldn't have done it without the support of my husband who is a remarkable man!

I read a lot. I take the train every day, so I I have a chance to read on the train. My spare time these days, not that I like to do it, is usually centered around laundry and cleaning. Fortunately, my husband cooks and cleans as well. He actually cooks more than I do.

We like to camp. I still have a very strong love for photography which was kind of my start. I rarely take pictures of people. My husband says that whenever we go on vacation it's kind of like we weren't really there!

Future plans

Career wise, it's really exciting to have been at the development stages of the Space Station work and to be able to see that project work through is going to be a real exciting opportunity.

I'm excited that my kids are grown and growing into men. That's a wonderful outlook. I want to be a grandma someday, but not too soon!

I've really had a lot of opportunities having had the chance to do the kind of things we do. I realize that it's not something that many folks get a chance to experience. I've always looked ahead at what I wanted to do next at the same time that I was doing whatever I was doing. I've also looked back to try to learn from where we've been, and how we've done things. I don't think things just happen for people. You need to make them happen.

I'm very strong willed. I think having lost my dad when I was young, and seeing the effect that that had for my mom (she didn't do the grocery shopping or bill paying, he did!) She had to learn how to be a responsible part of the household. My mom did a wonderful job raising us, nurturing us, loving us, hugging us, but didn't pay a lot of attention to the mechanics, the logistics of the family, so when my dad was gone, it was very difficult for her. Having gone though that with her, I feel like I raised a family when I was a freshman in high school, and set my sight to be ready for anything life's got to offer.

I'm kind of a righteous person, in the sense that I've got to see that the right thing is done, following the process that's been laid out - the whole payload process - that we don't deviate from that. I'm very emotional about some injustices that you sometimes see in business. We're fortunate in our organization because our site manager rules from the heart as well as from the head. That's probably one of my strongest character bases. I think that maybe that's what makes me a good manager. It's not just doing the things that we need to do to get the job done, it's being sure that it's being done with all of our best interests in mind: NASA's best interest, Lockheed's best interest, and the best interests of all our employees. It's not always easy to juggle, but I work hard at it.

I've been coming to the cape since 1985. I find that when I start to get too deep into what's happening and the work seems to be making me crazy, coming to KSC is always something that brings it all home. No matter what we're doing or how we're stuggling, we get out here and it's real! It doesn't get old, and it revitalizes me.


 
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