For release: 06/08/04
Release #: 04-162
Not many people can say they've talked to an astronaut in space, but Karen Hicks can. In fact, at times it's been her job to talk to them everyday as they lived and worked onboard the International Space Station — the orbiting laboratory 16 nations are building 240 miles above Earth.Photo: Hicks (NASA/MSFC)
Not many people can say they've talked to an astronaut in space, but Karen Hicks can. In fact, it was her job to talk to them everyday as they lived and worked onboard the International Space Station - the orbiting laboratory 16 nations are building 240 miles above Earth.
"Even though I haven't actually lived up there, I still feel like I'm an important part of the Space Station crew," says Hicks. "As the payload communicator I've guided astronauts as they conduct research experiments in space. And as the data management coordinator I've sent computer commands to experiments onboard the Space Station to obtain information that scientists analyze."
Those are just a couple of the roles Hicks has taken on since joining NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., right out of high school.
Growing up in Ardmore, Ala., Hicks was encouraged by her parents, Jack and Annell Campbell, to look for a career at the Marshall Center, because of her interest in math and science. Hicks also credits her best friend's mother, Christine Casteel, for helping her research academic fields to pursue in college.
In 1988, Hicks signed on with the student aid program at the Marshall Center as an administrative aide to help research personnel announcements and other office duties.
After becoming familiar with various engineering programs at the Marshall Center, Hicks became sold on becoming a NASA engineer. She pursued degrees in both electrical and computer engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
In 1991, she transferred to NASA's co-op program and worked with a group that trained astronauts and scientists assigned to Spacelab -- the low-gravity science laboratory that transported hundreds of experiments into space in the Space Shuttle's payload, or cargo bay from 1982 to 1998.
After graduating from UAH in 1994, she continued training for other science activities aboard the Space Shuttle, until transitioning into work on the International Space Station.
Today, Hicks works at NASA's Payload Operations Center - the command post for all science activities aboard the Space Station - at the Marshall Center. She is the first team member to achieve three Space Station certifications: Hicks is certified as a payload communicator - responsible for voice communications with the crew onboard the Station; a Shuttle operations coordinator - responsible for all Space Station experiments housed on the Shuttle; and data management coordinator - responsible for commanding Station systems to collect, downlink and distribute all science information to the scientists for analysis.
Hicks is working to achieve a fourth certification, as a payload operations director to lead the Payload Operations Center and science teams worldwide in the safe and efficient execution of science experiment operations on the Space Station. The payload operations director is also the point-of-contact to the Mission Control Center flight director team at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Hicks expects to complete this certification this summer and begin supporting Michael Fincke and Gennady Padalka, the current Space Station crew.
Working closely with Space Station crews is nothing new to Hicks. She assisted the crew members of Expedition 4 - the fourth mission to the Station - during their stay onboard from December 2001 to June 2002.
"I just loved working with Carl Walz and Dan Bursch," says Hicks. "As a payload training integrator, I assigned experiment tasks to the crew that best matched their skills, trained them on those tasks, and then talked to them as they conducted those experiments on orbit. It was an absolutely amazing opportunity to get to know Carl and Dan and work closely with them through not only the early stages of payload training but also their 6-month stay aboard the Space Station."
The best thing about her job, Hicks says, is she's constantly learning something new. "We're on the cutting edge of space technology and international space relations. I'm so happy just to be a part of the space program. It's exciting to work with the people who are now figuring out how we will return to the Moon and go beyond. It's an amazing place to work."
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