Marilyn Vasques is a detail-oriented person. She is using her talents in the role of Project Manager of the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission. She leads more than 200 people who will be involved in preparing and supporting the aircraft, flight planning and aircraft coordination, and conducting the science data collection. All of this work is done to support the HS3 mission which has two NASA Global Hawks (unmanned aircraft) that will carry science instruments over hurricanes or tropical cyclones.
A consummate planner, Vasques balances the needs of the aircraft, crew and scientists as well as adeptly handling challenges of deployments to temporary research locations. Whether it is making arrangements with the local U.S. Embassy or coordinating instrument integration schedules, she tracks every detail.
The HS3 mission will fly these unique aircraft out of Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops, Va. "I'm very excited about this mission. Historically, when we collect science data from an aircraft platform we only get it in small batches due to limited aircraft flight duration. The aircraft used on this mission is the unmanned Global Hawk plane that will allow us to get data for up to 28 hours straight. That's an amazing window of data, which is streamed real-time to scientists allowing for mid-flight analysis. We can collect a wealth of data since this mission will deploy for the next 3 hurricane seasons," said Vasques.
This data can be especially useful to enhance our understanding of how hurricanes form and allow scientists to provide additional input in weather prediction models. "A better understanding of how and why hurricanes intensify can help improve predictions and allow people to be more prepared for these potentially destructive storms," said Vasques.
"The more issues you can address ahead of time, the more capacity you have during the mission to deal with the unexpected" she said. The first ESPO Project Vasques managed involved a group of over 400 people in Costa Rica during NASA's Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling (TC4) mission in 2007, which aimed to investigate the structure, properties and processes in the tropical Eastern Pacific. Her ESPO duties have taken her to many places including Costa Rica, Panama, Cape Verde, Canada and Alaska.
Vasques was born to be the project manager of the HS3 mission. She has always loved details and science. At 10 years old, Marilyn Vasques went on a trip to visit her sister at the University of California (U.C.) in Davis, Calif. She came home from that trip and told her parents that she was going to U.C. Davis and would get a degree in Zoology, which she did after graduating from Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose, Calif.
Her high school teachers recognized her love of science and recommended Vasques for a student program with NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. She worked in a research laboratory one day a week during her senior year and then, through a science fair, won the chance to work full time for the summer in the same lab. Less than a year after college, that same lab at NASA Ames contacted her to offer her a position.
"I have always loved science. It was nice to be recognized by my high school teachers to become a candidate for the NASA internship. It was also flattering that the people I interned with remembered me and offered me a job," said Vasques.
For 22 years Vasques worked in Life Sciences on projects that studied how living things respond to changes in gravity. The projects included laboratory research and space shuttle work as well as 3 missions with the Russian space program.
NASA has opened educational doors for Vasques as well. While working at NASA under their graduate education program, she attended Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Calif. and earned a Masters Degree in Projects and Systems Management. Her level of responsibility grew until she was the Project Scientist for biological payloads on STS-107. "I'm grateful for the opportunities that NASA has given me," said Vasques.
Vasques accepted a position in the Earth Science Division in 2005. The position of Project Manager in the Earth Science Project Office (ESPO) was another place she could combine her organizational and management skills with her passion for science.
"When I first started, I was surprised at the depth of research NASA does in Earth science," commented Vasques. "ESPO is a small group of people focused on the success of the mission. We all just want to help the scientists get the best data possible. It is a real pleasure to work with dedicated people."