Snapshot: Upendra Singh
Image above: Upendra Singh was recently named a Fellow in the Optical Society of America for his work on 1-2 micron lasers. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith
By: Jim Hodges
Upendra Singh's passport is a travelogue of matchmaking.
"NASA has to have partners," said Singh, Chief Technologist of the Engineering Directorate, who recently finished an 8-year, $70 million NASA’s multi-center Laser Risk Reduction Program aimed at reducing risk and technology maturation of 1-2 micron lasers for space-based laser remote sensing. That was accomplished while also chairing about 30 international conferences.
The work earned him Fellow distinction in the Optical Society of America for "technical leadership in the development of key technologies for two micron based eye-safe lidar for global sensing of wind and carbon dioxide," according to the citation.
At the conferences, "I try to get NASA leadership to communicate its vision," said Singh, who grew up in northern India, the son of a college principal; and who received advanced education in applied physics and quantum electronics in India and at the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France before coming to the United States in 1985.
"By creating a forum, we can bring the policymakers, researchers and scientists together and let them share their visions and let NASA and other agencies see how they can play together."
By other agencies, he means space organizations from around the world.
"NASA can see what the Europeans are doing, what the Japanese, Indians and Chinese are doing, and a lot of times, the visions overlap," Singh said. "If you are going to Mars and we are going to Mars, why not go together?"
Vision is a word Singh uses freely and enthusiastically. He traces his vision to his roots.
"My mother did not go beyond high school, but she had this vision for me," Singh said. "She wanted me to get the highest education possible and move abroad to conduct research. She would say, 'I want you to go out and be whatever you want to be.' My mother and my wife have contributed to what I am today.
"My father gave me the discipline, the practical part of it, but they gave me the passion, the emotion and needed support. My dreams came from my mother. I live her dreams. The support to realize the dreams came from my wife.
Their dreams and his vision drive him. "When you have a vision, it won't let you sleep," Singh said. "Sometimes I get up at 2 in the morning and have ideas and jot them down or run down here. I live three miles away."
He laughs at the thought: "My wife (Sangeeta) says 'I have four kids: three I can manage, one who is unmanageable.' "
Singh came to the University of Maryland to work on NASA-sponsored laser remote sensing in 1985. In 1990, he moved to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to conduct lidar research to measure ozone from a mobile lidar trailer and traveled the world to help unravel the ozone depletion mystery. He joined NASA Langley Research Center in 1996 to conduct space-based laser development and to lead the 2-micron laser development for space-based wind measurement.
In 2001, Singh led a move to develop a NASA-wide strategy for space-based laser development. In 2002, he established the laser risk-reduction program (LRRP) that was carried out jointly between Langley and Goddard.
That could bear fruit in future NASA missions.
"In the (National Research Council's) Decadal Survey, there are 15 missions," Singh said. "Eight of those missions involve lasers and lidars."
With that in mind, the just-completed 2-micron laser research at Langley was not done with one mission in mind. Rather, it involved the technology maturation itself with a sense that, once-proven, it can be adapted to the mission at hand.
"We have found that we can apply this technology to Mars and Venus," Singh said of an ad hoc group comprised of researchers from Langley, Jet Propulsion Lab, Ames Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center to study potential missions to the two planets; and of a group created to study applications for 2-micron lidar for wind, density and dust profiling on Mars and wind on Venus.
"The atmosphere in Mars is 10 times dustier than on Earth," Singh said, offering an example. "The measurement we do with the 2-micron relies on the dust and aerosol."
It's in a paper he co-authored with Langley's Joel Levine, Walt Engelund, Jirong Yu, Grady Koch and M.J. Kavaya.
Ahead lies a determination of the requirement for each mission, with the lidar customized to fulfill that requirement.
"That's what makes my job exciting," said Singh. "I can visualize things over the next 20 years, coming up with a concept of how to use this technology to measure things at places like Venus and Mars."
Away from Langley, he likes to hike, swim, snorkel and to follow the achievements of daughters Aimee, apolitical science graduate who manages hotels in Hampton Roads and North Carolina; and Manisha, a dental student at the Medical College of Virginia; and son Vivek, who is at Virginia Tech, majoring in Health, Nutrition, Food and Exercise, a pre-medicine track.
"I'm the dumbest person in the house," Singh said, laughing.
And away from Langley, the vision remains. "It's a passion," Singh said."Once you have the vision, the vision won't let you rest. It makes you go and find the means to make the vision a reality. It's a very exciting journey. It's not about the destination, it’s about the journey."
He has the passport to prove it.
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