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Giving a Name to the Number
By: Maggie Stough

Over the past 12 years, NASA employees seeking telephone numbers to accompany names have punched "0" on their phones and been greeted by the familiar voice of NASA’s operator, Arline Cordova Page.

In Page’s full-time "retirement job" at NASA, she meets a multitude of employees by providing them information. The job also provides her with opportunity to talk to people from all over the world.

"Different people have different ways of answering the phone," Page says. "British people always say 'Cheerio!' at the end."

Some frequent callers become friends because, even though she has never met them, she easily recognizes their voices. On several occasions, her memory of those voices has led her to meet the people in person whom she has assisted over the phone.

"It's great to meet people that I only know by their voices," Page says.

Langley operator.
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Arline Cordova Page is adept at meeting the people whom she has only known by voice in her role as NASA Langley's telephone operator.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Besides receiving calls from people of other nations and familiar voices, Page has also received some strange calls.

"I get a lot of calls from people outside of NASA telling me that NASA's satellites are destroying their house or yard," Page says.

Although Page leaves NASA every day with a sense of peace, knowing that a real person -- not an automated voice -- has helped people, her job can be challenging when she can't provide callers with information they seek.

"I don't now everything, though some people think so," Page says.

To counteract the challenge of hunting telephone numbers, Page has started to keep her own personal list of numbers and names she didn't know.

Before finding the telephone number, Page must locate the name, which can prove daunting when the person goes by a nickname or bears a particularly challenging last name.

"People go by nicknames like Butch, Skip and Buddy, and they shouldn’t," Page says.

Other problems arise when last names change after marriage or divorce. Page is rarely notified of the change, and it handicaps her ability to help people when the name they give her can't be found.

"People also don’t inform when they change buildings or offices and their number changes, too," Page said.

Often she feels left out of the loop when special events arise and people call to ask whom to contact for information or to help out with the event. Page tries to minimize that by reading the Researcher News daily to keep up with events at NASA.

Some people she has helped have returned the favor by informing her of telephone numbers she has been searching for or names of people who run sports teams or head other groups.

Page used the task of cleaning off old phones to aid her in her collecting of numbers.

"When I'd clean off the phones, I'd sometimes find lists of phone numbers taped to them. I've kept the lists and crossed out the information that is no longer current," she says.

While waiting for the phone to ring, Page occupies herself by helping her officemates who work in telecommunications and set up phone networks.

"I’m like a grandmother to them," Page says.

She also enjoys drawing with colored pencils or other crafts that can easily be put down to answer the phone.

But at the end of the day, she considers her position as NASA’s operator to be "the best job I ever had." And even though she works rather anonymously, Page says, "I consider myself important to NASA."

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman