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Justin Rice - A Sun Amidst the Stars at Goddard
January 21, 2014

Conversations With Goddard COOP Edition (written by a COOP)

[image-51]Name: Justin L. Rice, Ph.D.
Title: DSCOVR GDS Lead
Hometown:  Jackson, MS         
Organization: Flight Software Systems Branch (Code 582)
How long have you been at NASA: About nine years. Started out as a summer intern in 2004
Age: 29

From summer intern to napkin speech writer, Justin is making waves through the Goddard Community.

In two sentences, tell us about your current job and what you do.

I am currently responsible for maintenance of the Goddard Dynamic Simulator for the Deep Space Climate Observatory, known as DSCOVR, mission. The GDS imitates spacecraft components and the space environment in order to test flight software functionality.

What is the most exciting part about your job?

It is interdisciplinary and challenging.  There is always room for improvement and growth.

Why did you choose your profession?

As a child, I was always curious as to how electronic devices worked. My older brother and I "investigated" by disassembling radios. They were easy to access and easy to take apart. It wasn't long before this became an uncontrollable obsession. We destroyed at least 20 radios—they never quite worked when we put them back together again.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done at Goddard?

There was an intern networking event in 2008. The room in Building 8 was packed from wall to wall. To help spark the interest of interns, co-op students were given a chance to speak about their various experiences at Goddard. Several individuals spoke, but the place was just not lively. I felt compelled to do something about it. So I jotted a few ideas down on a napkin. There was only one problem though. I was not scheduled to speak. So at the last minute I convinced Janine Dolinka, then student programs coordinator, to put me on. She obliged and the rest is history. Whatever I said had the whole place attentive. People were happy. There was laughter and world peace. It was magical. I had to have signed about 20 autographs that day. I'm exaggerating of course; but there were some people that actually wanted "the speech." However, there was no prepared speech—just my random incoherent thoughts on a napkin. I still have that napkin.

What is the one thing you would tell somebody just starting their career at Goddard?

There are a lot stars, but very few can be seen during the daytime when the sun is out. In other words, be aggressive with your career. Don't settle for mediocrity. Excelling at Goddard, amongst the brightest of bright, requires a rigorous work ethic—far more intense than what it took for you to get here. Aim to be the sun.

Do you have a mentor or are you a mentor?

Damon Bradley is my mentor. He told me to go to school for as long as you can. Learn as much stuff as early as you can. Don't be afraid to fail. Success is only the by-product of many failed attempts.

If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?

I'd probably still be destroying radios. I'm kidding. Travelling professor—that or a travelling multi-genre musician—or both. 

Is there something surprising about your background that people do not generally know?

I am the second oldest of six children. My mother stayed at home to raise us. My father was a construction worker. He dragged my older brother and I to work with him every summer. While most kids looked forward to being out of school during the summer, we hated it. He did not even pay us until we reached high school. In hindsight, that was probably a good thing. We mostly splurged on things he would never buy us with his money: Nintendo 64 games, pairs of Jordans, Tommy Hilfiger clothes, etc. I would not have traded those experiences for the world; but at the same time, I would not want to do it again. I learned three valuable things. One, respect for blue collar workers. Two, working in the hot Mississippi sun with heat-generating construction equipment can possibly make one delusional. Three, this is not something that I want to do when I grow up.

Shamara Thornton
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Dr. Justin L. Rice
Dr. Justin L. Rice
Image Credit: 
NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Page Last Updated: January 21st, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner