IBEX December 2008
Over the course of November the IBEX team has been working night and day to prepare everything for taking our science data. First, we used our internal propulsion system to raise the orbit into its final shape, going out about 5/6 of the way to the Moon's orbit. Then we finished turning on and testing out (commissioning) all of the spacecraft subsystems and now have nearly completed the testing and commissioning of the IBEX-Hi and -Lo sensors. I can hardly convey how exciting it was for me and the whole team working late at night in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) when we finally got all the IBEX-Hi voltages raised and configured and began seeing real neutral atoms being detected in that sensor - what a rush! Anyway, we plan to complete commissioning over the next few weeks and may be making our first science observations imaging a swath in the sky at higher energies as early as this coming week.
This month I am extremely delighted to introduce John Carrico from Applied Defense Solutions, Inc. John heads up the Flight Dynamics work for IBEX. This means that he and his team had to use data from the launch to actually tell the ground antennas where to point to find our spacecraft. After that they had to figure out what orbit we were in and design the set of propulsion "burns" to lift our orbit in exactly the right way. All this "navigation" is complicated and requires the use of many computer models and programs, but more importantly, it requires someone who can keep the big picture in mind while finding innovative ways to work through the details. John and his team did a great job for us getting to our current (and final) orbit - Thanks John!
It isn't often that one is able use "euphonium" in a sentence. A euphonium is a higher-pitched, tenor sibling to the tuba, and the word "euphonium" means "beautiful-sounding." The euphonium is beautiful-sounding to John Carrico, and he has played it for more than 30 years, ever since he was a kid. John was born near Boston, Massachusetts, grew up outside of Detroit, Michigan, and attended Michigan State University where he majored in physics. John states, "A lot of what I have done in my work life is problem solving, figuring out new methods to achieve something unanticipated. Studying physics gave me a good background in how to solve problems, as well as a basis for understanding aerospace." When he was younger, he wanted to be an astronaut, exploring the Moon and the planets. John may not be directly exploring the Solar System today, but he is contributing to our knowledge of its boundary through his work on the IBEX mission.
John has been inspired throughout his life by family, friends, co-workers and historical figures. "It seems that almost everyone I meet and read about has interesting ideas and stories," John says. He has worked on many different types of spacecraft missions, such as Clementine and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), and he has developed software used around the world for mission planning, spacecraft maneuver planning, and trajectory design. John is currently the group lead for the Flight Dynamics Group for the IBEX mission. His team processes the tracking data to determine where IBEX is and where it's going. They plan the maneuvers to make sure the spacecraft's orbit meets the mission and science requirements, and they create the data files to tell the tracking stations where to point their satellite dishes for communication with and tracking of IBEX. "Like a ship has navigators, we are the 'astrogators' of the IBEX spacecraft," quips John, "and I'm really proud to work with the individuals in our group."
John may not have his hands on IBEX in a literal sense, but one can easily imagine John's team carefully guiding IBEX through its paces using radio signals. They really do get to say "GO IBEX" to the spacecraft on a regular basis! "I've been working flight dynamic operations with my team since we launched on October 19th. We've been processing the tracking data as it comes in after each pass when we contact the spacecraft. We've spent a lot of time looking at the data and getting the most information from it that we can. Also, we've been working on the orbit maneuvers that change the orbit from the lower one we launched into to a higher one that meets the mission's requirements and maximizes the science. We've worked closely with the flight directors, systems engineers, and the scientists to make sure we maneuver the spacecraft safely into a useful orbit."
While John has worked on many different spacecraft missions with many different people, he has high praise for the IBEX mission and its dedicated team: "One of the biggest challenges I've faced over the years is having the freedom to solve a problem in the best way possible. A lot of challenging problems require new and creative techniques, but it's rare to get support to try them. The IBEX project has been extremely rewarding in that although we were faced with some unique challenges because of its interesting orbit, we were encouraged to pursue the best answer, even if it was new. I've seen several situations on past projects where people were reluctant to try innovative approaches, but I think the IBEX project has been successful because of the imaginative and cooperative spirit of problem solving."
It is the ability to problem-solve that John places high on his list for those interested in a career like his, and a physics background put him in good standing to think, wonder, explore, and be open to new ways of thinking. John advises, "The universe has a lot more things for us to discover than we've learned so far - and it's very fulfilling to be part of the exploration. Stay curious…if you don't understand something, pursue that until you do understand it. Success in the science and engineering world often depends on bringing a technique from one discipline into another. You never know when you'll be able to solve a problem in one area based on something that seemed unrelated before. Also, remember that anything you learn is simply the current understanding of the community; it's important to learn the current ideas, but be open to the fact that things are always changing, and that progress comes from developing new techniques and new theories. Preconceived notions often lead down the wrong path - be aware that any idea you have, no matter how good it seems at first, may be bad, so be willing to give it up and move on."
John and his team have been putting in long hours and odd shift times to keep up with the progress of IBEX's communication and orbital maneuvering issues and schedules. As seen in the accompanying photograph, John even spent his birthday in the IBEX control center, complete with cake and party hats for the team members. However, life is not all work for John. He loves to hike, bike, and camp, especially in the mountains, spending as much time outdoors as possible. He and his wife Cindy keep quite busy with four children, and he loves to do activities with them individually and all together as a family. John loves cooking, reading, and music, especially playing the aforementioned euphonium. He also enjoys helping with the Special Olympics with his autistic son, who runs track, ice skates, plays soccer, and has recently taken up snowshoeing.
Problem-solving, though, is at the heart of what John loves to do professionally. He is inspired and encouraged by the current and future lunar, planetary, and extra-solar planetary exploration missions and hopes these will help us learn more about our exciting Universe. As for himself, John states, "I'd like to continue solving the challenging trajectory and space navigation problems that will be posed as we continue to explore. The new challenges require imagination and creativity - and I'd like to be part of that."
With John and the rest of the Flight Dynamics Group, we all get to say, "Go IBEX!"