As Systems Engineer, I oversee the technical aspects of the mission and ensure that the all of the systems work as one unit as designed. Given the international and multi-center relationships, this can often be a tough task. When you fold in the fact that CALIPSO must fly in tight formation with other satellites, the challenges get even greater. One of my other duties on CALIPSO was to plan and conduct the atmospheric tests at both Boulder, Co. and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca. (VAFB). With the effort and help of many great people, we successfully conducted both of these “end-to-end” tests of the lidar portion of the CALIPSO satellite. During our VAFB atmospheric test, I acted as the Test Director, coordinating the different groups -- like the CALIPSO satellite, correlative lidar, radar, frontier control, overhead spotters and VAFB personnel. Even though this was a tough assignment, it was also a lot of fun, especially when you are able to keep a good sense of humor about situations.
Image left: Shown here is Jim Wells, mission systems engineer for CALIPSO.
What attracted you to the CALIPSO mission?
Since 1989, I have enjoyed working on many different aspects of space-based missions. It all started with working on the Boresight Mechanism on LITE (Lidar In-space Technology Experiment), where a highlight of my career was working Mission Control from Houston. I was then fortunate enough to work on other interesting missions such as MIDAS, a shuttle-based payload that was eventually transferred to the MIR Space Station and then returned home 4 months later via the shuttle. I started working on rocket-launched satellites with the SABER instrument, the largest instrument on the TIMED satellite, overseeing the mechanical work during assembly, integration, test, and launch.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I enjoy the dynamic nature of my work. I am never doing the same thing twice -- one minute I get to work with lasers, the next rockets, then fiber optics, high temperature system conductors -- every job is different in nature and is always a learning experience.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Outside of work, my three children, ages 4, 8 and 22, are a lot of fun and keep me very busy. When I am not busy with my family, I enjoy my other passion, high performance automobiles.