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Meet: Brion Au

Photo of Brion Au
Sitting in the cockpit of Endeavour

Senior Project Engineer -- EarthKAM
NASA Johnson Space Center

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Who I Am and What I Do
Hi, my name is Brion Au. I am the senior project engineer for EarthKAM. EarthKAM is a payload designed especially for middle school students to conduct research projects utilizing images of the Earth taken from space. I work with the EarthKAM Principal Investigator, former Astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, to make sure that all of the payload components work the way they are designed, that they are tested, and that the astronaut crew is trained on how to set up and operate EarthKAM. To have a payload carried up into space requires coordinating with many people to make sure that the payload is safe, that it is built well enough to operate when in space, and the resources -- like power, data/computer connections, and crew time -- are available to operate the payload.

The EarthKAM payload can fly on both the shuttle and on the International Space Station. Once in orbit, EarthKAM (an electronic still camera) is set up in a window looking down at Earth and hooked to a computer. Because the computer is connected by satellite to Mission Control, we are able to operate the camera from the ground. This allows the astronauts to spend time working on other experiments or activities. Operating the camera from the ground requires the efforts of many people in Mission Control and at the EarthKAM Mission Operations Center at the University of California-San Diego.

I am also participating, as a team member, to design and build several components for use on the space station. The company I work for, Johnson Engineering Corporation, is a part of Spacehab Inc. We design and build components for use on the shuttle and the International Space Station, along with many other engineering support services for NASA. The projects I am working with include the Resupply and Stowage Platform (cargo carrier), crew quarters (astronaut "bedroom"), galley, wardroom, and the Waste and Hygiene Compartment. The work is very challenging, exciting and requires a tremendous amount of teamwork to make sure everything works the way it needs to when it goes into space. Imagining how hardware and people function together in microgravity is a real challenge. We work closely with astronauts who have been in space to help us understand what works and what might not.

Career Journey
I grew up in Amherst, New York (near Niagara Falls). While in the seventh grade, I thought it would be neat to be an architect. One of my friends' dad was a contractor who built houses, and it was something that I found interesting. In high school, I enrolled in drafting and architecture classes, which helped to provide a good background for my future engineering experiences.

After graduating from high school I joined the Air Force as an engineering technician and was immediately challenged with assignments in a variety of engineering disciplines. I also continued my education until I graduated from college.

I've worked in civil engineering offices as a draftsman, land surveyor and construction inspector. I was an instructor, teaching civil engineers how to rapidly repair runways (in case they were bombed during an air attack). I've worked in an electronic engineering office designing and building computer interfaces for air traffic control, communications, and weather systems (NEXRAD). My final assignment in the Air Force was at a physics laboratory, assisting with the research and development of atmospheric samplers, and providing engineering support for cryogenic and high vacuum equipment necessary to conduct scientific investigations.

My work at Johnson Engineering is challenging, and requires the ability to adapt concepts into functioning hardware and systems. How to work with others is perhaps the most important thing I have learned. To be a "subject matter expert" is great, but being able to actively participate in completing a project with your team members is a really neat feeling.

One day I would like to become a teacher working with middle school students. The schools I've attended were the best public schools anyone could wish for. The teachers there made learning fun while demonstrating the importance of teamwork.

My Family
My wife, Doris, and I have two daughters. Adrion is the oldest. She works for an airline; has competed in beauty pageants in Florida, Illinois, California and Texas; and plays the fiddle. Carin (a senior in high school) is the youngest, she plays the flute and piano, enjoys sketching, painting, listening to music and is very good at computer art and web page design. We like to go to the beach and travel to different places around the USA together. The most amazing trip we went on was to the Grand Canyon. The sights are absolutely breathtaking.

While in the Air Force we lived in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Utah, Germany and Korea. We presently live in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. This is close to the Johnson Space Center, where I work. We have several pets; a poodle named Sprocket, two cats named Daisy and Heebah, and a tank full of fish.

I really enjoy sports, music and reading. I play and referee ice hockey, snow ski and jog, listen to all types of music, play the stand-up bass (prefer blues) and read science-fiction adventure. My all-time favorite is the Martian series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As I was growing up, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were science fiction stories come true. The race to put a man on the moon was in full swing. Every event was covered on television and in the newspapers. As a very young child, probably when I was about 10 years old, I made a promise to my dad that I would take him to the moon someday. Little did I know that in just a few years, men would be walking on the moon. Though I am not an astronaut, and do not travel in space, I realize that the support I provide to the space program and the astronauts is very important.

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