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Marco “Mission Impossible” Midon Makes Mission Possible at Goddard
12.14.11
 
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Marco “Mission Impossible” Midon was the one the Russians relied on to come up with a quick fix to their Soyuz radio frequency problem.


Name: Marco Midon
Title: Acting NASA Stations Manager for the Near Earth Network Project
Formal Job Classification: Electronics Engineer
Organization He Works For: Code 453 and 567, Operations and Explorations Directorate and Microwave Instrumentation and Communications Branch, Electrical Engineering Division

What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?


I am responsible for the NASA ground stations all around the world and things can go wrong outside of our business hours. I check what is going on with these ground stations. I am also responsible for developing a new capability for our NASA ground stations called the Near Earth Network (NEN) Gateway, which will support future high data rate science missions.

NASA owns ground stations at Wallops Flight Facility; White Sands, New Mexico; McMurgo, Antarctica; and Fairbanks, Alaska. I have been to all of these ground stations except for the one in Alaska, which I plan on visiting later this year. Not too many people get to say that they have visited McMurgo. I was there for three weeks around January of 2010, which is their summer season. One day, it was 30 degrees below zero, but the rest of the time it was about 20 degrees above zero. I am sure that I am the first blind person to ever visit McMurdo.

Photo of Marco Midon
Photo of Marco Midon Credit: NASA
I took my talking computer, which has software that makes the computer speak what is written. One of the many things my talking computer does is that it announces new email. I also have a talking spectrum analyzer, which is an instrument that characterizes radio frequency emissions. Communications instruments at ground stations emit these radio frequencies and this allows me to measure what they are doing.

I lead a team of about ten people who are developing the NEN Gateway. I try to make sure that people have what they need, that any problems are quickly addressed, and also give feedback when they are doing a good job or not. In addition, I am part of the whole NEN project team. As a team member, I try to be a good listener and also provide engineering and technical expertise. I am one of the few radiofrequency engineers involved.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?


During a normal Soyuz re-entry, the Russian controllers normally lose communications with the Soyuz capsule for several minutes. During this silent time, several Soyuz had previously re-entered slightly off course. The Russians needed data during this silent time to evaluate the anomaly. In October 2008, a Soyuz was one week away from re-entering. The Russians asked NASA for help. Being given less than a week to fix this problem had a “Mission Impossible” aspect. Everything was improvised; we did not have time to do a thorough testing and analysis. Despite this, I was able to develop a solution after which I, together with two others from Goddard, immediately flew to Athens, Greece. We needed to be within view of the Soyuz during re-entry. We were able to capture and record the data which occurred during the silent time for the Russians and get that data to them to help future Soyuz re-entries. Later, the Russian news channel “Russia Today” came to Goddard to interview me. (See Goddard View, Volume 4, Issue 19)

What makes Goddard a great place to work?


Our work at Goddard helps to build a better future for all. Working at Goddard also allows me to pursue my passion for radio communications, which included solving the Soyuz re-entry issue.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to a visually-impaired person just starting a career at Goddard?


I would tell them to strive for excellence. I would also tell them that finding someone who believes in you and can be your advocate is very important. You have to show that you are really good at something and therefore can significantly contribute. This is even more critical for a visually-impaired person because the burden is on them to show that they have something valuable to offer the team.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know (like you run ultra marathons or work on a NASCAR pit crew on weekends)?


I am a ham radio, also known as amateur radio, operator. I have a 70 foot antenna in my back yard which you can see from the highway.

Who is one of the most interesting people you have met and why?


In the late ‘80’s, while I was a student at the University of Miami, Florida, I met Carl Sagan after he had given a speech. I asked him whether the deep space probes NASA was then launching to the outer planets would, if turned towards the Earth, be able to detect that there is intelligent life on Earth. He said that they could, but the finding would probably be that the dominant form of life on Earth was the car. Basically, the probe would detect roads all over the place leading to the conclusion that everything was built for the cars.

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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.