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Women of SDO - Melissa Vess
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Melissa Vess Credit: NASA
Q & A with Melissa

What first sparked your interest in science or engineering?
I always enjoyed working with my hands and figuring out puzzles. Most of engineering is just a big puzzle, so I was drawn to it from that respect.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I actually like the problem solving and troubleshooting the best. No one wants something to go wrong, but it is exciting to work through an anomaly and try to figure out what happened.
What advice would you give to students who would like to work on a project such as SDO?
Do well in school, but don't get caught up in trying to get all the "right" answers. In engineering, there can be more than one right answer and the right answer means nothing if you do not understand how you got there. The process is just as important as the final result. Also, take advantage of working on teams. No one person can build a spacecraft, so you have to be able to work with other people.
What do you do on an average day?
I am an attitude control systems engineer. I help design the control systems (algorithms) that point the spacecraft where it is supposed to be pointed. What I do on a given day depends on what phase of a project we are in. In the early days of project development, I do a lot of analytical design and simulations on the computer -- to test if the algorithms we have designed will really do what we want them to as far as pointing the simulated spacecraft at the right target. As we get into integration and testing, I am involved in the mounting of our sensors and actuators from the perspective of making sure they are wired correctly and give the measurements we are expecting. During launch and early operations, we sit at console stations and monitor the telemetry from the spacecraft to make sure it is behaving as it was designed to.
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
The greatest challenge is making sure we have good communication among all the different subsystems we interface with. The attitude control system touches all different parts of the spacecraft, so we have to make sure the other subsystems understand our hardware and our requirements and we understand their concerns. For example, the thermal team need to know how much power our hardware draws so they can model that in there simulations. And they need to know what temperature our hardware needs to operate at to meet performance.
What is your favorite hobby/activity outside of work?
Triathlons. I just completed my first half ironman distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run).

About Melissa

Full Name: Melissa Vess (Missie)

Position/Title: My position evolved throughout the project. I started as an Attitude Control Systems (ACS) Analyst, then became Deputy ACS Lead, and finally was ACS Lead during launch and commissioning and for the last year leading up to launch.

Hometown (City,State): Cary, NC

  • Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering
    University of Maryland, College Park, 2001
  • Master's of Science in Aerospace Engineering
    University of Maryland, College Park, 2005, achieved while working at Goddard
Career Highlights:
  • To date, my biggest career highlight is the SDO launch. I started working on SDO from the very beginning of the project, and getting to finally see it launch and operate was amazing.
  • Another highlight was receiving the 2010 Engineering Excellence award from the 590 (MESA) Division. I felt very honored that my peers thought I deserved such an award.
What influenced your career choice?

I like problem solving and working with my hands, and I am good at math, so I figured engineering was a good place to be. I have always been interested in space, so always hoped to work for NASA. It is interesting because my older sister is also a mechanical engineer, but both our parents are in the medical field -- my father is a research pharmacist and my mother is a nurse.

Hobbies and Interests:
  • I have a husband (Dave, married 8/16/2003) and 2 wonderful children (daughter Kaylie, born 9/2/2006 and son Hayden, born 3/31/2009) that I like to spend time with. I got married and had 2 children during the time I was working on SDO.
  • I like to do triathlons and am currently training for my first half ironman distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run)
  • I also like to knit, cross-stitch, and make stamped cards.