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Ed Masuoka - Runs a Lab and Runs for Fun
April 8, 2014

[image-51]Name: Ed Masuoka
Title: Lab Chief
Formal Job Classification: Supervisory, AST, Applications Data Management
Organization: Code 619, Terrestrial Information Systems Laboratory, Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Each day, Ed Masuoka and his group produce and distribute a Library of Congress worth of science products and imagery collected by instruments on the Terra, Aqua and Aura satellites to users throughout the world.

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I manage a laboratory in the Earth Sciences Division that develops and operates data systems to process, archive and distribute data products from Earth observing satellites. The data products come from several instruments including the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the Earth Observing System Terra and Aqua satellites, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on the EOS Aura satellite, and the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite and Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite.

My group also assesses the quality of the data products being produced daily, including scientifically validating the land data products by comparing them with similar products from other satellite instruments and with ground-based observations. The most interesting aspect of the work is our interaction with the science team members who are responsible for the algorithms that generate the global atmosphere and land science products.

How much data does your group work with each day?

We receive on the order of 200 gigabytes of raw data each day from the satellite instruments we process. This amount of data would fill the disk in a laptop computer in two to five days. Each day our data systems produce 7,000 GB of science products that we archive or ship to other distributed active archive centers that comprise the Earth Observing System Data and Information System.

In addition, we ship 8,000 to 10,000 GB each day from our online data archive to science and applications users—a volume equivalent to all the print holdings of the Library of Congress. When the EOS Terra satellite launched in 1999, a single disk drive in our data system could hold 76 GB of data. Today, a comparable drive holds 4,000 GB and the increase in storage capacity makes it possible to keep all of our satellite products online for immediate downloading.

What kind of data does your lab send out?

We make atmospheric and land products from MODIS and VIIRS such as cloud properties, aerosol concentration and distribution, land surface reflectance, vegetation cover type and land surface temperature. Our atmospheric chemistry products are also used in monitoring the ozone hole over the poles.

How many are on your team?

There are 95 civil servants and contractors in the laboratory. About a quarter of the staff members are scientists and the remainder are in information technology professions such as system administrators, software developers, system engineers and computer operators.

What is your management style?

Many projects in my laboratory are managed by civil servant principal investigators. For the data systems I personally manage, I delegate much of the work to civil servants and contractors who have considerable autonomy in their approaches for developing data systems and software. When problems do arise, we focus on addressing the problem and improving our procedures rather than assessing blame.

Why did you become a geologist?

As a kid growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I collected fossils and I still have some of them displayed in my office. I also enjoyed working with computers. My graduate thesis was a computer model of a marine benthic community from the Ordovician Period, some 350 million years ago. I still find rocks, minerals and structural geology interesting and my wife and I go on field trips with local rock clubs.

I came to Goddard in 1979 when Goddard was looking for geologists and remote sensing scientists. Once at Goddard, I worked in the area of geobotany, which uses plants to map underlying rock types. Our work took place in Virginia where we used changes in the reflectance of the forest canopy to map metal deposits. Often trees growing on metal deposits put leaves out later and took on fall colors earlier due to water stress. After about five years of working in geobotany, the work began winding down, so I took on the management of the division’s computing facility.

Why did you come to work at Goddard?

During graduate school, I went to a Geological Society of America conference where I met a remote sensing scientist from Goddard. He gave my name to the branch head of the Earth Resources Branch. When I came for an interview, I was very impressed with the scientists at Goddard, the computer systems they worked with and how much everyone I talked with liked working at the center.

Are you involved with any advisory committees?

My father was Japanese. I joined the Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee about seven years ago after sitting in on an open meeting of the committee. I was co-chair of the committee for four years and am now the Code 600 representative. While individual advisory committees are chartered to represent their particular constituents at Goddard, the majority of the work we do benefits all employees at the center.

Did you have a mentor and, if so, what did he teach you?

My mentor was Locke Stuart, who was our assistant chief and has since retired. He inspired me by example. He was always in early, left late and kept himself physically fit. I also learned a lot from Dr. Albert Fleig about negotiating and strategic thinking, Dr. Vince Salomonson about the value of civility and delegation and Rick Obenschain about the value of taking time to nominate your staff for awards and doing the right thing when the stakes are high.

[image-78]What is the difference between working at a university and working here?

On the one hand, Goddard brings together elements of a world class research university and an engineering company. There are things you can accomplish here that would be impossible to accomplish at a university or in a for-profit company including large scale programs such as the EOS. There is also tremendous stability in our workforce that translates into years of experience building spacecraft and data systems and working together. What can be missing, depending on the organization, are the different perspectives that younger employees bring to the table.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

I started running in 2008 with the Goddard Spring Fun Run and since then have run in 76 marathons and 28 ultramarathons. An ultramarathon is any race 50 km (31 miles) or more. This July, I plan to run 500 km across Tennessee in the Annual Vol State Run which is billed as a “vacation without a car.”

Is your wife also a scientist?

Yes, my wife Penny is a geologist specializing in geographic information systems. We met in grad school. She used to work at Goddard too.

Do you have a favorite way or place to kick back, relax or have fun?

I enjoy running on trails through the woods in Montgomery County.

What subject, other than your work, do you know the most about?

I know a lot about early American copper coinage from 1787-1857 and also slotted telephone tokens from the 1930s.

What one word or phrase best describes you?


What is the one big dream you have?

To run in the Self-Transcendence 3,100 mile race

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Ed Masuoka, Geologist and Lab Chief
Ed Masuoka, holding a display of fossils he collected during his childhood in Nashville, Tennessee.
Image Credit: 
NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Ed Masuoka at the finish line of the Summer Beast of Burden race
Ed Masuoka at the finish line of the Summer Beast of Burden race.
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Courtesy of E. Masuoka
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Page Last Updated: April 9th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner