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Meet: Craig Schafer

Schafer photo

ISS Microgravity Sciences Requirements Manager
NASA Johnson Space Center

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Who I am and what I do
My title is Microgravity Sciences Requirements Manager. I help make sure the International Space Station (ISS) runs smoothly by making sure the payloads get the quiet microgravity environment we promised them. I act as the representative of the ISS Payloads Office to the microgravity research community. Likewise, I represent the needs of the microgravity research community to the ISS Payload Office. I also work on issues concerning the microgravity environment. I work with representatives of the ISS Vehicle office, computer modeling experts from the space station's Prime Contractor (Boeing), and others to assess the microgravity environment and work to solve any issues. I attend professional conferences and other meetings to represent microgravity interests and the ISS Payloads office. I perform special studies and write presentations as necessary. Also, I perform outreach to the public to educate them about what the International Space Station is, what can be done on it, and how it might impact their lives.

The best thing about my job is that it is a childhood dream come true! I am helping to mold how microgravity research will be conducted into the next century. I am working on a piece of history -- the ISS is the largest crewed spacecraft ever built. Also, I get to work with the astronauts. When the ISS is complete, it will be so big and bright that I'll be able to take my daughter out to the back yard and point at it moving in the night sky and say to her, "That's what your daddy is working on."

The negative aspects of my job are that it's not a regular "9-5" job. I sometimes have to work very long hours. I also have to travel, sometimes to other countries, and be away from my family. Like any other human endeavor, a challenge exists in learning to work with difficult personalities, conflicting agendas, and different cultures. You have to learn to be accommodating and understand the other person's point of view. It's not that easy sometimes. Being in a management position, I do sometimes miss working on actual hardware. It's all paperwork here!

Career Journey
I knew I wanted to work in the space program when I was 4 years old. That's when I discovered what an astronaut was. My career path varied greatly. I first went to college and obtained two bachelor degrees: one in electrical engineering technology and another in physics. I discovered that I had an aptitude for physics and, at the encouragement of my professors, went on to graduate school. I went to the University of Alabama, in Huntsville, which has an excellent working relationship with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. I worked under a professor who did space-related research and learned how to develop space hardware. Later, I went to work for the university's Research Institute. There, I built experiments for several space shuttle missions and was part of a rocket launch team (so yes, I AM a rocket scientist). I heard about a contractor job in Houston to work on ISS and I applied. I was hired by SAIC and am now working on the ISS's Payload Office.

Also, a physics professor was a mentor to me in undergraduate school. He hired me as a lab assistant where I helped him develop lab experiments for other students, such as x-ray diffraction of crystals, lasers, and even superconductivity! He also taught me outside of class on advanced topics. He was always eager to teach and encouraged me to stretch my abilities and understanding.

Some Advice on Getting to NASA (or any other career goal)
Certainly, you should start by reading all you can about science and math and choose a career path that best suits your aptitudes. You should then plan your education to meet that career path, starting in high school. Go to a school that has a working relationship with one of the NASA centers. Get involved with space activities there: work for a professor doing space-related research, join an active student space club, enter a co-op program. The key is to get involved!

Growing Up
I read, read, read! I must have checked out all the space books from school at one time or another. My parents greatly encouraged me to read all I could. They wanted me reading rather than watching TV or playing video games. It paid off! I read all kinds of science books, not just space related. I still do even today! I read a lot of science fiction, like Isaac Asimov. They really fueled my imagination. I pursued a space career because it was the desire of my heart. I was also a Boy Scout, which taught me how to meet challenges. Turn off the TV! Put up the video games! Learn learn learn!

I think the greatest influences in my life were my parents. They encouraged me to learn all I could about different areas of science at an early age. They supported me in many ways. For example, they took me to the library frequently, limited time watching television, and gave me learning aids like a map of the stars or a microscope. They also enrolled me in summer school classes like computer programming and advanced electronics in high school. They kept challenging me to learn more and more! I am a licensed amateur radio operator (also known as a 'ham'). I like to build my own equipment. I recently built an antenna out of some copper pipe. I am active in several ham radio clubs. I run a storm spotter group for the National Weather Service. We watch out for severe weather and tornadoes for the NWS and warn them via radio of severe weather we observe. It's very important for them to have spotters because radar and other instruments can't detect everything.

My Family
I have been married for over three years to Lea Ann, and we just had our first child! Her name is Sheridan, and she was born on May 12. We have two cats -- a black cat named Cosmo and an orange tabby named Gabriel (his nickname is Boo). I've included their pictures below.

Schafer family photo Photo of
cat named Cosmo Photo of
cat named Gabriel


Future Plans and Goals
I hope to remain in the space program. I understand that things can change, but I will be happy to remain in it for as long as I can. I hope to branch out a bit in the future by working on advanced mission planning, such as planning missions to Mars and the other planets. If our leadership tells NASA to go to back to the Moon or on to Mars, I want to be a part of that!

Archived Chats


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