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NASA Marshall Center's Bryan Barley Has Eye on Space Exploration and Ear for Music
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

News release: 07-022

Bryan Barley, program integration manager for Discovery and New Frontiers With an eye on space exploration and an ear for music, Bryan Barley of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has made a career of marching to the beat of a different drum. That's no surprise, given this NASA systems engineer began his college career as a music major and remains active in music education 20 years later.

At NASA, he's the program integration manager for Discovery and New Frontiers, two programs that explore the planets and our solar system. The missions under these program umbrellas ask -- and seek the answers to -- some pretty challenging questions. How did our solar system form and evolve? What other Earth-like planets exist outside our solar system? What can we learn about the moon, asteroids, comets and our neighboring worlds from Mercury to Pluto?

Barley's role in answering these questions is simple, yet far reaching. "I have the fun part," he says. "I look across all the missions, identify common issues and seek program-level solutions." With eight separate, active missions in these programs spread across an array of NASA centers and research institutions, this is no small task. It involves analyzing costs, schedules and resources -- with an eye on ensuring that lessons learned from prior and current missions are incorporated into plans for future missions.

With responsibilities for oversight of project planning, development, launch, mission operations and ongoing assessments, Marshall's Discovery and New Frontiers Program Office manages the programs for NASA Headquarters’ Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Integrating the wide array of mission activities keeps Barley focused on the bigger picture, while pursuing the many detailed tasks that come with his job. Analyzing schedules, assessing costs, performing special studies, negotiating contracts and drafting reports are just some of the responsibilities he tackles on any given day.

So how did Barley, a former music major, end up with his finger on the pulse of space exploration? It began with a full scholarship to study music at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. While pursuing the music degree, he discovered an avid interest in engineering. Soon, he was marching to a different tune -- changing his major to electrical engineering while continuing to study music.

His college credits include coursework from both Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he graduated in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering.

In 1991, he joined NASA's Marshall Center as a systems engineer, developing training simulators and software to support payload training for Spacelab missions. From there, Barley transitioned to crew training -- helping space shuttle and Spacelab astronauts prepare for science activities of the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-3 (ATLAS-3), a 1994 mission to study the Earth’s atmosphere composition and solar effects.

Barley went on to become lead systems engineer for the team that developed and built the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) -- a viewing portal destined for the U.S. laboratory module on the International Space Station.

Along the way, Barley married the former Kim Brown of Huntsville, had four children, and is nearing the completion of a master's degree, this one in engineering management and systems engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Through all this, his enthusiasm for music has never waned. Today, he arranges percussion music for the marching band at Grissom High School in Huntsville and performs gospel, traditional jazz and just about any other type of music when the opportunity arises. So how does arranging and performing music compare to his role at NASA? "When it comes to music and space missions, they both have a theme and a mission," he says. "You have to know where you want to go, know what you want to do when you get there, and create a path that gets you to your final goal."

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