SpaceTEC® Resource Blog for Aerospace Technicians

Surprise! You’re An Expert!

How the public views you.

“Expert-a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.” –

Leading up to my appearance on The Space Show, I had stopped by the web site to check on upcoming guests.  Along with other guests listed, my upcoming interview was listed and the host had titled me as a Space Shuttle expert.  I was horrified!  Though I had worked on the Space Shuttle fleet as a technician and had a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science, I was no way an expert in mine or many of my peer’s eyes.  Many of my peers at KSC had much more experience and had forgotten more about the shuttle systems than I would ever learn in a lifetime.  I immediately wrote an email to the host and asked him to take the word “expert” off the section announcing the upcoming interview.

A week later I was recounting the story to a friend of mine whom I considered an “expert” in academia.  After I told the story, he told me that he considered me an “expert” on the Space Shuttle.  I protested and reviewed the reasons as to why I couldn’t be an expert.  He then countered with this simple argument: “You are the only person I know that has worked on the Space Shuttle fleet and you have taught me much about something I knew little of.  In my eyes, you are an “expert.””

I reflected later that evening on what he had said and he was right.  In his eyes, and many other people’s eyes, I am an “expert.”  And, as an aerospace technician or student in an aerospace technology program, so are you.

A aerospace technician out in the world.

How many aerospace technicians do you deal with on a daily basis outside of work?  How many people in your life, family, friends, internet, business acquaintances, etc. outside of work are aerospace technicians that have actually worked on space related hardware?  Probably very few people.  How many people inside your workplace do you encounter that would have no clue as to what you do?  That makes you an expert and a teacher to anyone that is a willing student.

During my time at KSC, I sent many personal pictures and emails detailing my day to day activites, for I felt working there was truly an adventure that should be shared.  The surprising part was the feedback I got.  Instead of people complaining about my numerous emails and pictures, many friends and family (and some others that the emails got forwarded too) wrote back thanking me for teaching them about the Space Shuttle in such a personal way.  Much of the information I shared was just common day to day stuff for the aerospace technicians, but for the general public it was all new, interesting, and educational.  I would venture to say that probably 99% of the general population in our country and world has no clue as to what you do as an aerospace technician to prepare a spacecraft for its mission or what that mission is.  I have had contact and questions from people literally all over the world showing an intense desire to learn more and that in turn pushed me to learn more to be a better teacher and technician.

Even at work, astronauts would approach technicians and ask what they were doing and would become the student learning from that technician.  Same goes for some of the upper management and even VIP guests such as senators and ambassadors.  During those times, the aerospace technicians are the expert and have a duty, in my humble opinion, to teach and hopefully give that person a positive experience during their visit.

Just getting through the first semester in the aerospace technology program has already made you an “expert” in relation to the general public.  The lessons you learn on space history, aerospace culture, safety, etc. is much more than most people get in a lifetime.  And, as people in your life find out that you are learning to “work on spaceships”, they will look to you with many questions they have had but never knew where to find the answers.  You are now their “expert” and it is a great opportunity to teach someone about space exploration and why it is important to our country and our human race as a whole.

Getting public support for our Human Spaceflight Program doesn’t entail full page ads in the paper or busing in as many people as you can to watch a launch.  It does not entail having an astronaut appearing on TV or at a public appearance.  It does not entail press releases by NASA.  Gaining support and understanding for what we do is done one person, one taxpayer, one politician, one child, etc. at a time and it’s done by you.

You want public support for our HSF?  Then it’s up to you to garner it.  Teach your family, friends, post a blog, whatever, but make time to teach about what you do.  That child you see playing with a toy spacecraft at the store or on the playground, can be overjoyed at their good luck to have you talk with them and their parents for five minutes (show some pictures on your phone of your workplace) about what you do and why you do it.  While you may not remember the encounter days later, they will remember it for years to come and will have passed on the news that they met someone from “NASA” who works on rockets to their family and friends and that he took time to speak with them.

When someone sees your Boeing, Lockheed, USA, SpaceX, etc. sticker on your car or on your tee-shirt and ask about it, make time and show them some pictures and talk a little bit about your job.  You are the “expert” to them and they may never have an opportunity again in their lifetime to meet someone from a space center.  Is five minutes of your time worth it when you will give them a positive memory of space exploration for a lifetime?  I hope so.  You will find the experience just as rewarding as the person will when you make time to share your “expertise.”


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Saturday, November 20th, 2010 Introduction to Aerospace