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Meet: Daniel Andrews

Dan Andrews speaking at a conference

Project Manager
LCROSS Mission
NASA, Ames Research Center

Who I am and what I do
I'm the Project Manager for the LCROSS Mission, led from NASA's, Ames Research Center. Our project is attempting to discover if there is water-ice on the moon, buried down in the permanently-shadowed craters found on the south and north poles. This LCROSS team is very lean (small), and so there is a lot of cross-training and "multiple hats" being worn by each team member, in order to accomplish this mission. My role is to make sure that the team is moving in the right direction, and to pave the way through all the various stakeholders who have interest in this mission.

Areas of expertise
I am an electrical & mechanical engineer by training, and have enjoyed working on several very interesting projects in that capacity, including the Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA). I've always had a personal interest in robotics, especially relating to mechanisms "coming to life" (which is a fancy way of saying they do what you want them to do). No matter how impressive a robot, it can be broken-down into mechanisms that are controlled in an intelligent way.

As a Project Manager, my role moved from bringing robots and mechanical devices to life, to keeping a project team focused, excited, and happy about the cool mission they are working on. The project manager role is also to shelter the team from some of the many obligations placed on the project

How I first became interested in this career
As I found I was getting more and more experience working as an engineer, I could start to see the way things need to work from a project perspective. There are things that projects need to do to be successful - There are of course no guarantees, but if you remain organized, calm, agile, and enthusiastic you can work with a group of people to accomplish really amazing things

What helped prepare me for this job
Whether it was LEGOs, Erector sets, or homemade construction, I've always enjoyed building things that would do something - even if it is just something that walks across the floor. Then in my freshman year in High School I became fascinated by electronics, instilled quite frankly by the inappropriate use of electronics by upper classmen demonstrating the power of electricity. It was clear to me that mastering electronics could be very, very fun and useful. Finally, when my dad brought home our first Sinclair computer, I was determined to program my own version of the arcade game, Space Invaders. With the BASIC programming language available on this oversized calculator, I suddenly had the means to make pixels appear on a screen. With a combination of pixels, I could make shapes. With some logic, I could make those shapes do different things at different times. I could then make keyboard inputs influence what the program was doing... This was very empowering, and made me appreciate the leverage I could get from a computer.

My education and training
I have a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering (San Jose State University) and Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering (Stanford University). I ventured into both of these fields because it really suited my interested in both areas. When I graduated with my EE degree, I accepted a position at NASA, which really helped to formulate the direction my career would head. I found myself surrounded by other mechanical, electrical and controls engineers, who all knew more than I did (which is actually a good thing).

My career journey
I have participated in teams of engineers who have designed airfoil wing manipulators, which enabled scientists to test whole new regimes of aerodynamics. I've led a team of engineers who automated an entire wind tunnel complex so that it is completely operated and controlled by a computer system. Today I find myself working with a very capable and enthusiastic team on one of the most intriguing missions to the Moon.

What I like about my job
My favorite part of my job is the interaction with fellow team members. I really enjoy sitting with other engineers and trying to figure our way out of a problem, or to envision a whole new way to do something.

What I don't like about my job
The hours are really long. LCROSS is a special mission in that it has a very short development time - NASA is requesting this mission does things differently, and is willing to take risks on it... This translates to a lot of work.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
My advice to students pursuing a similar career is to keep playing. When you go to school to get the education you will need to be effective, do not lose the thing that got you started: That fascination and desire to play, learn, and explore.

School is where you "fill your tool bag". It is the place where you learn many things that enable you to be effective as an engineer. Once you graduate, these "tools" will enable you to do your job, but you need that drive and genuine interest to carry you through. Play and experiment. It isn't about the particulars of what you do; it is about the process you went through to make it come together. Knowing what you need to do to accomplish something is one thing, but being able to actually pull it off is another - You need to be able to deliver. Play.

Personal Information
I grew-up in Livermore, California, attending kindergarten through high school in the same town. By the time I was attending high school, I was a pretty accomplished draftsman, winning awards at the county fair, and even a "Future Achiever" award at school. So you can image what a pivotal moment it was when my father took me to his office one day and showed me this new thing called a "plotter"! This mechanism not only could produce perfect drawings, but in a fraction of the time of my own work.... This was a pivotal event for me because it not only illustrated that a machine might be able to do my job, but I also really wanted to know how that machine worked! This colored the direction my education took, as I recognized I want to design machines like that.

A Favorite Quote:
A gentleman I worked with on a previous project once told me, "Your ship doesn't always come in.... Sometimes you have to swim out to it". He shared this with me at a point in my career where I was uncertain about the step I was about to take. Translation: Sometime you just have to go for it.

Last updated June 2009
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