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For release: 03/23/04
Release #: 04-075  

El Paso, Texas, native John Waldron serves as an extra pair of eyes for International Space Station team

Photo description: Waldron

As a payload rack officer in NASA’s Payload Operations Center, John Waldron helps to keep experiments operating on the International Space Station. Waldron, 24 — one of the youngest members of the Space Station team at the Marshall Center, monitors the power and cooling resources to ensure experiments run smoothly. Scientists on the ground depend on him to handle the valuable data they can collect only by performing experiments in space.

Photo: Waldron (NASA/MSFC)


John Waldron is used to being on a winning team.

As a standout on his college swim team at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, his coach, Eddie Sinnott, would tell him, "You must work hard and focus on your goals to be a winner." Waldron still cherishes that advice, and uses it each day in his critical position at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., helping to keep experiments operating on the International Space Station.

To work properly, all the experiments on the orbiting laboratory, 240 miles above Earth, need power, cooling systems and a way to transmit information back to the scientists monitoring the experiment on Earth. As a payload rack officer at NASA's Payload Operations Center — the science command post for the Space Station at the Marshall Center — it's Waldron's responsibility to monitor these resources to ensure experiments run smoothly. Scientists on the ground depend on him to handle the valuable data they can collect only by performing experiments in space.

Waldron first became interested in engineering growing up in El Paso, Texas. His parents, Bob and Sharon, owners of a defense contracting business, would take their young son to the nearby White Sands missile range in southern New Mexico.

"I remember being at a test site and watching my mother fire a test missile. It was then that I knew I wanted to learn everything about it," said Waldron.

Waldron excelled in science and math at J.M. Hanks High School in El Paso, leading to a double major at SMU in math and electrical engineering. After receiving bachelor's degrees in each field in 2002, Waldron was set on a career in defense work and headed to Huntsville for a job interview at Teledyne Brown Engineering. There, he heard about another project that piqued his interest — the International Space Station. He opted for the Space Station work, and was hired as a Teledyne Brown Engineering contractor at the Marshall Center.

Today, the 24-year-old Waldron is one of the youngest members of the Space Station team in the Payload Operations Center. He has seen first-hand just what an accomplishment it has been to build the Space Station, now about the size of a three-bedroom house. The completion of the Space Station is a step toward the Moon and beyond. The orbiting research facility is one of the keys to long-term exploration in order to better understand and counter the factors of space flight that affect astronaut health.

"Working with people from different cultures is one of the most interesting parts of my work," Waldron said. "And at times it's challenging to get people from different countries working together to accomplish a goal, but this project is unique — everyone contributes to its success."

Waldron was a member of the operations control team at the Marshall Center that worked with a team from the European Space Agency to troubleshoot an electrical problem with the Microgravity Science Glovebox — a sealed container on board the Station that allows crewmembers to safely perform experiments with hazardous fluids, flames or fumes. For several weeks these teams spent countless, challenging hours to determine why the glovebox power source wasn't working. "This is a prime example of how this is an International project. It took the contributions of engineers from several countries to fix the problem," said Waldron.

His first goal after joining the Marshall Center team in 2002 was to be certified as a payload rack officer within a year. He accomplished that in 10 months. "The first thing they tell you in the Payload Operations Center is that working here is like drinking water through a fire hose — you have to learn so much so fast," said Waldron. "It's easy to find yourself drenched with information."

He's now pursuing his next goal — a master's degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, with a focus on engineering management. "Being a manager of engineers would allow me to work on the things I like, yet provide an opportunity to enjoy the challenges of managing and building a business," Waldron said. "It's the best of both worlds."


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