Paul Geithner - Taking the Dragon by the Tail
From working on the James Webb Space Telescope to driving one of his rebuilt, historic Triumph Spitfires on “The Tail of the Dragon,” Deputy Project Manager Paul H. Geithner is always passionate.
Paul H. Geithner
Deputy Project Manager - Technical
Formal Job Classification:
Code 443, James Webb Space Telescope Project, Flight Projects Directorate, Office of the Director
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
I am one of four deputies to the Project Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope Project. I focus on technical details, risk and public outreach. Every day brings new challenges.
I spend a large part of my day communicating within the team and reaching out to the general public. I talk with a lot of people all the time, either in person, on the phone, or through email. To me, teamwork means playing and working well with others. We have over 1,000 people worldwide working on Webb and it is one of Goddard’s single biggest projects ever. To be successful, we must collaborate with other NASA centers, industry, academia and our international partners the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Photo of Paul Geithner. Photo Courtesy of P. Geithner
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?
A goal of the James Webb Space Telescope mission is to see the very first stars, when the universe went from darkness into light. It is pretty cool! Dr. John Mather, our senior project scientist, shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics for precisely measuring the afterglow of the big bang. Webb will detect the first stars and galaxies that formed after the big bang and enable a lot of other great science. In 2018, we plan to launch Webb into an orbit in space about a million miles away in the midnight sky. After several months of checkout to commission it, Webb should start making scientific observations in 2019.
What was your best day or the best thing that ever happened to you at Goddard?
My first job here was working on repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. My best day was shortly after astronauts returned to Earth from servicing Hubble. We knew we had fixed it based on initial data, and senator Barbara Mikulski held a news conference at Goddard proclaiming our success. Fixing Hubble was a fantastic and historic team effort, and I want to have that feeling again after we launch the James Webb Space Telescope.
What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?
I have spent most of my career here. My advice is to have a passion for what you do and don’t be afraid to work hard. Many people outside Goddard are interested in what we do but do not necessarily understand what we do, so it is important to develop your communication skills and enthusiastically engage people.
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Paul racing his Triumph Spitfire around the Dragon's Tail. Photo courtesy of P. Geithner
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I like to rebuild and drive old British sports cars. I have five Triumph Spitfires, which are basically street-legal go-carts. Recently, I drove one of my Spitfires on the “Tail of the Dragon,” an 11 mile, 318-curve stretch of U.S. Route 129 crossing the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It is a favorite destination of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts the world over http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/riding-tail-dragon-9088145
I have also become an avid surfer and travel to the Maryland or New Jersey shore whenever I can. I love the ocean; my father and uncle were lifeguards on the Jersey shore. I also like to golf and play in the Goddard Golf League.
If you could meet and talk to anybody, living or dead, who would it be and what’s the first thing you’d ask them?
That’s a tough question because there are so many interesting people, but I would choose Benjamin Franklin. He embodied The Enlightenment and just had so much going on. I would ask him about the other founding brothers, his time in Paris during the American Revolution, and all about the dawn of our nation.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I don’t really watch any particular series on TV, but I tune into the Weather Channel every morning. I like to watch sports—particularly golf—and enjoy shows like “NOVA” and “Nature.”
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD