Jennifer Young - Building a Snug Sculpture for Satellites
Although many people think putting thermal blankets on spacecraft is as simple as wrapping a present, thermal blanket technician Jennifer Young views the process more like building a sculpture or a costume.
Name: Jennifer Young Title: Engineering (Thermal Blanket) Technician Organization She Works For: Code 540, Thermal Systems Support Office, Mechanical Systems Division, Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate Years at Goddard: 4 1/2 Years at Current Position: 4 1/2
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
I make thermal blankets to insulate instruments and spacecraft from the harsh environment of space. Nothing goes up without our blankets!
It is exciting to see everything come together starting with the template, the test blanket, and finally the flight blankets. Some people think that putting on blankets is just like wrapping a present, but it is a lot more involved than that! I especially enjoy working on final closeouts at the launch sites. Sometimes after a test, a harness is removed and we have to immediately close up the opening.
What makes a good leader? What makes a good team player?
A good leader balances and juggles the work to use everyone’s strengths. A good team player is always willing to help whenever needed.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I made sculptures out of an assortment of fabrics and fibers based on garment construction and related concepts. After graduation, I was the “first hand” or task delegator in the costume shop for the Utah Festival Opera Company. I made the Countess’ wedding gown and the Count’s wedding attire for “The Marriage of Figaro” along with several other costumes. I then became the costume designer for Bosma Dance and City Dance Ensemble, two modern dance companies, for which I designed and created nontraditional costumes. I enjoyed when my costumes became a significant part of the choreography. One time I designed tent-like dresses with hoops in the hems that dancers used as shelters for a performance entitled “Shelter.” Another time I knitted a dress that the dancers unraveled on the stage as part of the choreography. My costume designs were on stage at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the premiere of “The Jungle Books.”
I basically stumbled across my current job. I never imagined I would be working for NASA Goddard but my background is very well suited for this work. There is no school for making blankets, but knowing how to make patterns and templates is the best background you could have. Plus, being a sculptor gives me a good sense of working in three dimensions. I think of the blankets as clothing that is custom fit to the form of the underlying instrument. The film used for most blankets behaves like fabric.
What do you enjoy most about working at Goddard?
I like projects that have an end and a final product whether they are actual sculptures or thermal blankets. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and completion.
If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?
I would be designing and creating costumes again.
What makes working in the blanket lab so special for you?
I enjoy interacting with the team of engineers and technicians because it is like a production. All the different parts come together to make a final product which, in this case, is a spacecraft. The same teamwork is involved in putting on an opera or dance performance. From my perspective, the final performance is the launch because at that point my work is complete!
The above slideshow displays some of the costumes Jennifer has fashioned. The initial images show the wedding gown and other gowns for the opera “The Marriage of Figaro." The next image is from the show "Shelter" followed by one from a Bosma Dance and City Dance Ensemble production. The final costume image is of a wedding dress made entirely of paper. The last image shows Jennifer working at her sewing machine.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I sew for myself and sometimes for others. I recently made a Renaissance Festival costume for myself and taught a few of my friends how to make theirs. I have also made several wedding gowns for clients. Dealing with brides can be difficult but also very rewarding when they have their final fitting. Seeing them walk down the aisle in one of my custom pieces makes it all worthwhile.