“Expert-a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.” – dictionary.reference.com
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.
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.”
Of the many things I have learned while working as a technician at Kennedy Space Center, the most important and most challenging one is managing your time. A typical shift at KSC is about 8 hours long, but if you take into account the time off for meetings, breaks, answering emails, etc. your actual workday to perform your primary tasks is about 6 hours. That’s not much time to start, work, and complete a job. I thought I would share with the technicians and soon to be technicians what I’ve learned to be successful in getting through my day.
Before doing the job:
- What jobs will you doing that day? Usually your shop lead will give you your assignment for the day and it’s up to you to get off to a good start.
- Read the Work Authorization Document or WAD. What does the job want you to do? What certifications does the job require? Are you certified to do the work? Do you have your cert card with you to prove you are certified?
- What process covers the job? Find the proper process that applies to the job and either set aside the book with your tools or print out the paperwork. Read the process; don’t assume you already know it or have it memorized.
- What paperwork will you need to print out and add to the WAD? Get the paperwork printed out and verify the process version matches the version in your process documents.
- What tools will you need to do the job? After reading the process you should have a pretty good idea what tools you need. Are all the tools in your tool bag already? Do you need to visit Logistics to pick up materials and tools? There is nothing more wasteful of your time than having to stop your job in mid-work to go find a tool, material, or another page of paperwork. Set aside the tools and materials you need for the job beside your process and paperwork.
- Where is your job going to be? Since I worked on the thermal protection system of the shuttle, I needed to know where my tile/blanket/cavity was located on the ship. After all, there are only 24,000 tiles alone on a typical shuttle! Print out a map of the location on the ship for your job and go find it before moving everything there.
- Check out the work area. Is there room for all your tools and other items? Will you have to stage some of the things nearby? If so, you will want to lay out your items in the order you need them to make the flow of the work go smoother.
- Safety. Do you need a harness, goggles, smock, etc.? Are you required to tether your tools and if so, then place tethers on all the tools you’re going to use for this job ahead of time.
- Have a bag handy to place waste material in and set it aside with your tools.
- Will you need a Quality Control Inspector for your job? If so, this would be a good time to put in a call for one. Let the QC see where you’re going to be working and have them go over the WAD and other paperwork with you. A QC is there to help you follow the process, not “ding” you. I at first had a problem with someone looking over my shoulder while I worked, but have learned to value that “second set of eyes.”
- Take all your paperwork, processes, tools, etc. to the worksite or the staging area. Set up your bag to place waste material in. Tape off and cover anything you need to avoid any accidental damage to the ship or hardware you’re working on. If you are working above the floor, then have some sort of catch/drop barrier placed below your work area and the floor to ensure nothing falls on the ship or people below.
Doing the job:
- Be aware of your surroundings while doing the job. Always be mindful of your safety and the safety of others.
- Make sure you have adequate lighting to work in. As my friend Larry Tanner used to always say, “Light is your friend.”
- Clean as you go. Nothing worse than to be standing in a pile of trash and potential FOD while working. Once you produce waste, pick it up and put it in a trash bag. You will find there is less to clean up after the job ends.
- Always refer to your process and WAD.
- Stamp as you go. Stamp the WAD as you complete each task. DO NOT STAMP AHEAD OF YOUR WORK STEPS. That can get you into some big trouble.
After the job is over:
- Go over your paperwork and ensure that everything that was to be stamped has been stamped and dated.
- Clean up your work area.
- Return all tools and unused materials to their proper places.
- Go back to your work site and do a final walk down ensuring that nothing has been left behind.
- Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
If any other aerospace technicians would like to add to these suggestions, please feel free to do so in the comments section.
Last night Gregory N. Cecil, M.A.S., a 2003 alumni of the SpaceTec program (the Gemini Class) appeared on The Space Show hosted by Dr. David Livingston. The interview went so well that it went a half hour over the scheduled time. There were many good calls and email questions from all over the world and Kennedy Space Center.
You can download to the interview or listen online at the following link:
http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/1452-BWB-2010-11-03.mp3 This is the direct URL to the interview.
You can also subscribe to The Space Show podcast on iTunes and download this interview and many other worthwhile interviews to listen too.
A while back I was a guest speaker at an aerospace technician class. This was the first semester for the class in a two year program. I asked the students where they planned on working after graduation and to the man/woman, they all said “the Space Shuttle program” at Kennedy Space Center. I pointed out the program would be over by the time they graduated in two years and a look of surprise and dismay crossed their faces. I then asked if they were aware of and could name other space ports in these United States of America and they indicated they were not aware of any others. I proceeded to teach them about the other space ports and to explain that the skills they were learning will be needed there also.
Kennedy Space Center gets all the publicity because of Human Space Flight, but there are currently nine space ports in use and 3 proposed ones. The nearest space port is just right across Mosquito Lagoon from KSC at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The primary companies that launch there are United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. (SpaceX also has a launch facility at the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.) Many unmanned NASA probes, government, and commercial satellites are launched from this facility at multiple launch pads. Also Pegasus launches are conducted from there. CCAFS has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
Further up the east coast is NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Goddard Space Flight Center. Wallops is responsible for launching sub-orbital and small orbital launches along with testing and research. Wallops has been in business launching these smaller rockets since 1945.
Just next door to Wallops is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). MARS launches both commercial and government payloads. MARS has been launching rockets since 2006.
Moving out west, there is the Nevada Test and Training Range responsible for launching sounding rockets and test vehicles. It was formally known as Nellis Air Force Base and is also home to Area 51. They have been launching since the 1950’s along with many other activities.
The next launch facility is in New Mexico called Spaceport America. It’s most famous resident is Virgin Galactic which will be launching tourists into sub-orbital flight within the next year. Spaceport America also does sub-orbital commercial launches. Spaceport America has been an operating spaceport since 2006.
California has three spaceports, including one that is mobile. First is the Vandenberg Air Force Base which specializes in ballistic missile tests, along with the typical government and commercial satellite payloads. Vandenberg has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
The second California spaceport is the privately owned Mojave Air & Space Port. This facility is famous for the two historic launches of Space Ship One. Mojave Air & Space Port has been operating since 2004.
The third California space port is Ocean Odyssey Complex owned and operated by Sea Launch. Ocean Odyssey Complex is a converted oil rig with associated support ships whose home port is in Long Beach California but does the actual launches at the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean Odyssey Complex has been doing commercial launches since 1999.
If you don’t mind the cold, there is the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Kodiak is operated by the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation and specializes in satellite and ballistic missile interceptor launches. They have been in operation since 1998.
There are also numerous spaceports throughout the world if you feel like working outside of the country. You can find a list of these spaceports along with the appropriate links here.
The point is, though Shuttle work at KSC (though some other work there continues) is coming to a standstill, there is still lots of work at CCAFS (for example SpaceX and ULA) and other spaceports throughout the country and the world for certified aerospace technicians both in government and private companies. Don’t limit your talents and skills to just one spaceport. Think outside of the box and the area when it comes to pursuing the career you have chosen.