Spacesuits used for spacewalking are incredibly complicated equipment. In fact, the suits are self-contained one-person spacecraft. To successfully use the suits for a spacewalk - called an extravehicular activity - astronauts require extensive training. EVA trainers make sure the astronauts know all they need to know. Jonnie Yaptengco will be one of those trainers, after she completes her own training.
What is your job, and how do you support spacewalks?
I just began in the EVA Systems group in April. What this means is that I am in the certification process to be able to teach astronauts everything there is to know about the spacesuit and the hardware involved to get ready to do a spacewalk and what to do afterwards.
Why is this element of spacewalk support important?
Without us, it would be like allowing a new driver to get in the car without knowing how to prepare to do it or what to do when you want to stop. We are the astronaut trainers that allow them to be able to interface with their suits and the hardware associated with it.
How did you get your current position?
I earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida and applied for this job online. I interviewed and was offered a job.
Were you involved with NASA as a student in high school or college, and, if so, in what projects were you involved?
Not really. I was involved with Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, or SEDS, where we learned more about space advancement. I have always been fascinated by space.
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacewalks?
I think there is a certain stress level that our team needs to know how to deal with. Not only do we have to meet deadlines to complete certification in our classes, but once we are certified we need to always be on our toes. We need to know everything about the systems, and that is a lot of pressure! After we are certified instructors, we become flight controllers to interface with the crew and be able to solve any problems and monitor the associated systems. We need to be experts so if anything goes wrong with the suits - which sustains life for the crew member - we know exactly what to do and what to say to keep the crew safe.
As NASA prepares to go back to the moon, what changes will be needed for this aspect of spacewalk support?
The suit will be changing, and we will need to learn a new system and know how to teach it effectively.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with spacewalk support?
I wanted a job where I wouldn't be stuck at a desk all day. I got just what I wanted! Sometimes, of course, you are at a desk. However, we get to train and take classes in full-size mock-ups, do simulations to test out the flight controllers and pretend to be the astronauts, and get to meet astronauts and work with them. It's such a unique place to be, and no day is ever the same. I was fitted in a suit in November, and I will be diving in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory! I'm so excited!
NASA's Johnson Space Center
NASA Higher Education Projects
Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory
David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services