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Fernando Pellerano - Orchestra Conductor to the ATLAS Project (Part Two)
April 1, 2014

[image-51]Name: Fernando Pellerano
Title: Lead Instrument Systems Engineer for the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System
Formal Job Classification: Aerospace Engineer
Organization: Code 592, Instrument/Payload Systems Engineering Branch, Applied Engineering Technology Directorate

Aerospace Engineer Fernando Pellerano builds instruments for NASA during the day and creates robots with his son during his free time.

As an engineer, how do you interface between scientists and engineers?

Working with the scientists plays into one of my skills, which is the ability to interface well between the scientists and engineers. Scientists and engineers speak with a slightly different language. I can’t really explain the difference, but they are different, as if they came from different cultures. You just can’t put your finger on it. However you describe it, I’ve learned to translate between the two.

For the most part, scientists start a project by thinking about what big goals to achieve and engineers think about what they can and cannot do. We usually meet somewhere in the middle.

A scientist might say, “I want to bring the moon to my backyard.” An engineer would respond, “Hey, I’m not sure that I can do that because we only have so much time and money.” So they send a man to the moon instead.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?

Each of the three instruments on which I worked has been an incredible experience. The first instrument I worked on was Aquarius, which is currently measuring the salinity of the oceans from space. That’s cool.

It’s also cool that Aquarius had such wonderful cooperation between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Argentina’s Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales. I even went to Argentina three times and later to Brazil where we did observatory testing.

We had a wonderful team. When the proposal selection committee made a site visit, the team played the song “The Age of Aquarius” as they entered the room. The committee laughed and it put everybody in a nice mood. This is a hard job. You have to keep a sense of humor; otherwise, things become a drag.

[image-78]Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

Right now, my time outside of work is being consumed by my 15-year-old son’s robotics team. I’m one of the mentors for the robotics club at his high school, Atholton High School in Columbia, Md. The kids are building very large, complicated robots, some up to 120 pounds. In the beginning of each year, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, in partnership with NASA, announces a worldwide competition for high school students to build a robot that must meet certain technical requirements. This year’s challenge is called Aerial Assist. The robot must grab a ball 2 feet in diameter and then shoot it 7 feet up into the air through a goal in a wall. Thousands of high schools are building robots. For the competition, two teams of three robots each will have to interact and play together. In effect, a team of robots will play a mix of basketball and volleyball against another team of robots.

The biggest challenge is that after the announcement, the teams must build their robot in just six weeks. So for 20 hours a week over six weeks, helping the students build this robot was my second job. We just finished building ours.

Our kids usually give our robot a girls’ name. Last year it was Odessa. Don’t ask me why.

Our team’s first competition is the last week in March. We start with regional competitions and then hopefully move up to nationals in April in St. Louis.

In addition to being cool, why build robots?

My sister works for a company that recently did a study that determined that a common thread among up and coming influential people in and around technology is that they were all involved in FIRST Robotics. What these kids are doing is pretty impressive!

Read Part One of Fernando's interview.

Read about the robot competition in "I, Tormentum."

OF NOTE:  2014 Goddard Senior Fellow. NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals for 2012 and 2007.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Fernando Pellerano
Fernando Pellerano
Image Credit: 
NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Fernando with his 15-year old son and their home-built robot.
Fernando with his 15-year old son and their home-built robot.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of F. Pellerano
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Page Last Updated: December 19th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner