'Substance Over Style' Sets Goddard Apart, According to Nair
Param Nair is a “cost and schedule” guy who advises everyone to “do the Sneakernet” and meet people.
Operations Research Analyst
Organization He Works For:
Code 400, Flight Projects Directorate
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
Getting to meet different people and learning about their proposed research. Our Division specializes in operations research. Many of us received our training in mathematics, economics, computer science, and traditional engineering disciplines. My own graduate thesis was in econometric modeling, which is economic modeling using statistics.
We provide independent assessments of mission costs and schedule. We do this primarily in the mission formulation stage but sometimes as late as the detailed design stage. We use prior, similar missions as the basis for generating our models. Missions that overrun can compromise NASA’s ability to have additional missions in the future, so it’s important that we identify as best as possible what a mission will cost and how long it will take. You could say we’re the independent cost and schedule people.
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Photo of Param Nair. Credit: NASA
Teamwork and collaboration are indispensable to our work. Our data comes from various project teams at Goddard, other NASA Centers, universities, and institutions. I can’t begin tell you how many friendships have resulted as a part of this!
What makes Goddard a great place to work?
Substance over style. We’re laid back, but we don’t compromise on excellence. We may not wear suits and ties every day, but it’s hard to find an organization that’s more dedicated and passionate about excellence in Earth and space science. It’s inspiring to be a part of this culture. One of my favorite television shows is MASH because it was a self-deprecating group that worked under tremendous stress while maintaining high operational excellence, good grace, and a sense of humor. To me, in some respects, Goddard operates like a MASH unit. We work around the clock, often under a lot of stress, but we always strive to preserve our high levels of technical and administrative excellence.
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Param Nair with his wife, Emi and his two boys, Siddhartha and Tomohito, standing in front of the Grand Canyon. Credit: P. Nair
What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their career at Goddard?
Goddard is a very diverse place, so get out and meet our different communities. Odds are that there will be a group with interests similar to yours. The “Sneakernet” is highly underrated; don’t stay holed up in your office. Meeting people is personally and professionally rewarding. Also, we have a beautiful, wooded campus, so walking not only contributes to good health but is pleasurable and environmentally friendly as well.
If somebody asked you, “What is Goddard,” what would you tell them?
Goddard is a large, world-class organization of professionals who attempt to solve complex, relevant, diverse scientific and aerospace engineering challenges that benefit people and the environment.
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 enjoy adventure travelling, especially trips involving hiking and scuba diving. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia as well as here in North America. I’d like to visit Central and South America. Of course, going to the Polar Regions would be fantastic! Even better, I hope access to space becomes affordable in the near future.
Do you have a favorite book, magazine, movie, or TV show?
Two of my favorite authors are Richard Dawkins and Michael Crichton. One of my favorite movies is “Ofelas” (The Pathfinder) from Norway. The story occurs in hunter-gatherer times and has that rare combination of a great plot, captivating scenery, a great script, and good acting. On TV, I love the old “Twilight Zone” series by Rod Serling. More recently, “House” and the “X-Files” are very entertaining. I’m also enjoying “Tom and Jerry” cartoons again thanks to my kids.
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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.