Instrument Manager Jacqueline Townsend
Note: Some quotes in this story have been changed for readability.
Describe your role with the Mission to Hubble.
I am the instrument manager for the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument. It's my job to ensure that our team builds an instrument that does what we promised -- provide spectacular imaging capability through the end of the telescope's life -- and is delivered on schedule within cost.
In practice, I spend most of my time making sure the entire team stays on the same page. The team has members working all over the country, and partners around the world, each on their own specific element of the instrument. As pieces are delivered or problems are encountered, it's important to make sure all the puzzle pieces come together the right way in the correct order.
What should people know about Hubble?
I am profoundly grateful to be a part of this team and to work on a program that has touched the lives of people all over the world in ways that no other science program has. I think this is because it demonstrates the absolute best that NASA has to offer the world. The Hubble Space Telescope program harnesses the great strengths of the human spaceflight program to provide unparalleled, spectacular science.
What was your involvement with Hubble before 2009's Mission to Hubble?
I started working on Hubble as a materials consultant working to understand degradation in the outer-layer materials of the telescope (that were) discovered during a servicing mission in 1997. From there, I worked with a team of folks who trained the astronauts and mission team, teaching them what to expect when they returned for a subsequent servicing mission in 1999. Following that mission, I became the contamination engineering manager -- responsible for ensuring hardware elements would not contaminate the telescope and compromise the science.
What did you do before Hubble?
I came to NASA while I was still in college as a co-op student (which combines academic studies with on-the-job training and experience) in the Materials Engineering Branch. This branch provides targeted support to every program at Goddard Space Flight Center. I spent my first seven years in this branch, learning to be an engineer and how to solve problems in a methodical, logical manner. In those years I supported more than a dozen missions, including Hubble.
How did you become interested in science? How did that interest grow into a career?
I was always enamored with the space program, but all the way through high school I didn't think I was good enough in math or science to make it at NASA. After a year as a psychology major, I took a break from college and worked as a farmhand, (as) a secretary and in retail. In that time I learned three important things about myself. First, I found that I must be challenged by my work. Second, I decided I needed to work on something that mattered to me, where I felt I could make a contribution to the future. And finally, I realized that I had never tried as hard as I could at anything in my life. Fear of failure always prevented me from committing myself or trying my hardest.
With those three things in mind, I decided to go back to college and try the most difficult program that interested me -- even at the risk of total failure. I decided on physics, and after several years I graduated with honors from the University of Maryland. In the meantime, I had found my way to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, working there part-time and going to school part-time, ... and had the right skills to succeed at NASA. In working for NASA and the space program, I believe I am contributing to humanity's future in a tangible way.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about a career in science?
Find your passion and give it everything you have. Sometimes you'll be wrong; sometimes you'll make mistakes; and often you'll have to ask for help. But if it matters to you and you're willing to give it your all, don't let anyone stand in your way.
Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies