Q & A with Caitlin
What first sparked your interest in science or engineering?
Women of SDO - Caitlin Bacha
My parents were really the drivers behind me going toward engineering – they definitely knew before I knew. This probably had something to do with how I would take things apart as a kid instead of playing with them like I was supposed to. Eventually they started giving me more complex things to take apart. As I got older, watching rocket launches, learning about astronauts, and seeing images from Hubble got me hooked on space. Specific interest in propulsion came much later, when I realized there was a job that would let me blow stuff up.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The best thing about my job is that it is always changing. First we’re sitting at the computer, designing the system and running numbers. Next I’m flying out to California or New York to work with vendors to procure components for the spacecraft. Then I’m in the cleanroom, building and testing what we’ve designed. After that I get to go the launch site, load fuel and give a go for launch. Then I get to sit in mission control as the spacecraft lifts off into space, firing thrusters to establish its orbit. I feel lucky to work at Goddard, because it has given me the opportunity to see the entire life cycle of a spacecraft. It keeps me busy and interested; I never really have a chance to get bored with my job.
What advice would you give to students who would like to work on a project such as SDO?
If you have a passion for space, there are so many different types of people and positions that are required to build a spacecraft; there is most certainly a place for you! Just about every type of engineer has some hand in building a spacecraft. And any instrument development requires a wide variety of scientists. In addition we have program managers, legal experts, finance people, human resources people, education outreach, you get the point. Pretty much, if you have an interest in space, there is a place for you!
What do you do on an average day?
If you are interested in science and engineering, there are always opportunities for you to grow and learn more. Talk to your teachers about how to get involved in your school. Many schools have programs like Lego League and First Robotics that give you the chance to design and build something. In addition to these programs, there are a number of community groups such as astronomy clubs and model rocket groups. Reach out and get involved!
I’m happy to say that I don’t really have an “average day.” My day depends on where in the cycle of building the spacecraft we are. Right now, I’m in the middle of Integration and Test phase for another program, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission. My day starts with a 20-minute standup meeting where we define what everyone is doing that day to build the propulsion system. Then I may be shuffled to technical meetings with other subsystems, to cleanroom operations, or back to my desk to write or review procedures for future work. It keeps me on my toes!
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
When working on a program as complex and as big as SDO, there are always bound to be challenges and technical issues. This ensures that, if my job wasn’t dynamic enough, I have zero opportunity to sit still and get bored. While that sounds like a bad thing, it’s actually a phenomenal opportunity to think creatively with a brilliant team to come up with a workable solution. I certainly would never ask for these problems, but they are inevitable with a project of this size. Finding solutions to difficult challenges is incredibly satisfying.
What is your favorite hobby/activity outside of work?
I find I am the most productive and successful at work when I give myself sufficient time to unwind. One hobby I have is distance running (I’ve run 3 marathons now!). It’s a wonderful opportunity to relax and clear my head. I am also completely obsessed with riding horses. It’s another hobby where you have to be so focused on the horse and your riding that there’s no room to think about the stresses of the day. Horses are my Zen!
Caitlin Eubank Bacha
SDO Propulsion Engineer and Associate Branch Head for Propulsion
- Johns Hopkins University, M.S. Systems Engineering, in work
- Virginia Tech, B.S. Aerospace Engineering, June 2004
- Currently in the role of Deputy Product Design Lead (PDL) and Integration and Test (I&T) Lead Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) propulsion system (launching 2013).
- I was able to be a part of the development, analysis, fabrication, assembly, testing, and mission operations of the first bipropellant system built at Goddard, SDO (launched Feb 2010).
- I was a part of the development of the monopropellant propulsion system on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched June 2009).
- I’ve been able to work on the design of new technology development for propulsion systems.
- One of my favorite things I do at NASA is outreach. I’ve been able to talk to people of all ages and backgrounds about what I do with NASA. It is incredibly rewarding to share passions for space and to see the next generation of engineers.