Lauri K. Newman - NASA Space Traffic Cop
Lauri K. Newman grew up at Goddard watching her father work at the Delta control center. Now she protects NASA spacecraft from collisions with other on-orbit space objects.
Lauri K. Newman
NASA Robotic Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis Manager
Formal Job Classification:
Organization She Works For:
Code 595, Robotics Systems Protection Program, Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
My job is to protect NASA spacecraft from collisions with other on-orbit space objects including both spacecraft and space debris. On a typical day, I interface with lots of different types of people from within Goddard, NASA Headquarters, or the military. I spend most of my day on the phone trying to get people to do the things we need. It could be arranging to protect a NASA spacecraft from a collision, working on an international agreement, or speaking with the military to get the data we need to complete this process. The military tracks the objects for us. We are currently monitoring close approaches for 54 NASA and NASA-partnered spacecraft. I love multitasking; it keeps me from getting bored.
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Photo of Lauri K. Newman. Credit: NASA/W. Hrybyk
I work at my desk, but I also travel to meet with other people. I have been to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California; and various places around the beltway including the Pentagon. I have also assisted with international negotiations in Spain, Germany, and France.
We built software to perform analyses of close approaches so that we can quantify the risk and help NASA flight projects decide how and whether to mitigate the risk, either with a maneuver or some other action. We can say, “We recommend that you move your spacecraft,” but only the flight project can make the actual decision to move the spacecraft. An air traffic controller has the authority to direct an aircraft to move to avoid a problem, but we can only recommend.
Teamwork and collaboration are central to performing my function. My work involves coordinating many different groups of people in many different places to achieve our goal.
Why did you come to work at Goddard?
My dad worked for Goddard for thirty years on the Delta Launch Vehicle. He was an engineer and designed trajectories for the Delta rocket. He would bring me here to the control rooms and also take me to see launches. I feel like I grew up with NASA Goddard as dinnertime conversation, so this is where I wanted to work when I graduated. After I started working here, my dad and I would meet for lunch.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?
The coolest thing I have done was managing the flight dynamics support for the Terra spacecraft. After I was hired, I spent twelve years working on Terra, starting with designing the orbit for the spacecraft. I eventually took on more responsibility including implementation of the flight dynamics ground support system, which is the software that controls the spacecraft orbit and attitude. I really enjoy trajectory engineering, which is something I learned at Goddard.
What makes Goddard a great place to work?
I like all the different things that go on here, which gives you the opportunity to move around and meet people who do things that are very different from what you do. There is always something new going on to find out about. You are never bored here!
My first child is named Cara. My job was originally called “Conjunction Assessment,” which is a term already used by the military, so my boss created the name “Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis” for me because the acronym “CARA” is my daughter’s name.
Do you have a favorite book, magazine, movie, or TV show?
I love watching “The Big Bang Theory” because it reminds me of a lot of the people who work here.
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.