Science Operations Specialist
I work in the OSS and PODPS Unified System (OPUS). The OSS acronym stands
for the Observation Support System and PODPS is the Post Observation Data
Processing System. OSS and PODPS were combined into one system late last
year. My job was (and still is to some point) to help in the merger of
these two systems. A good part of this involved procedure writing and
computer programing. I also manage our local set of homegrown software
that we used to make our day to day work easier. In addition, I help manage
the software package, called IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility),
that we use to calibrate and assess HST science data.
On rare occasions I get to do some real-time commanding. This is done
to support what we call a mode one target acquisition, which is needed
under certain circumstances. During a mode one target acquisition, HST
takes a picture of an astronomical target and sends it down to us here
in OPUS within seconds after it leaves HST. Once the picture is displayed
on a computer screen, we find the target and calculate how far we need
to nudge HST to center the target in an aperture. Then at a predetermined
time, we send a command to HST to move so that the target is centered.
Another type of real-time commanding that we do is to move or tilt the
mirrors in the COSTAR instrument. Remember that COSTAR is the instrument
that has the little mirrors that correct HST's primary mirror's aberration
for 3 of HST's 5 science instruments. OSS (now OPUS) did a lot of this
type of commanding shortly after the first servicing mission to HST, but
now it is rarely needed.
I pretty much knew by the time that I was in the 5th grade that I wanted
to have a career in astronomy. Throughout school, I took all of the math
and science courses I could. After high school, I went to Indiana University
and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics and Astronomy.
Shortly after obtaining my degree, one of my professor's (Dr. Hollis Johnson)
recommended me for my current job.
I have a strong background in observational astronomy, but I would have
been more prepared for my job if I had more computer experience. I did
not even start to play with computers until I was a sophomore in college.
Certainly, you must be comfortable with working with computers in my line
Certainly, the opportunity to actually command HST is one of the best
things my job has to offer. Just as fun is that I am able to see many
of the HST images for the first time. On several occasions, I remember
seeing images that you just know will eventually show up in press.
The worst thing about my job is that the location of STScI forces me
to live near a large city. I have often wished the Institute would have
been built somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Since I do live near
a city, light pollution has taken away much of the night sky that I knew
as a boy. I was lucky to have grown up where the stars were the feature
attraction every clear moonless night.
Long before landing the job here with HST, I was an amateur astronomer
(and still am) since age 6. As far as I can remember, I have always been
fascinated with the night sky. One of the things that intrigued me most
while growing up on a farm in north-central Indiana (near the small town
of Grass Creek), was this little luminous patch of sky that was visible
on spring evenings. It was no where near the Milky Way, so that was not
the answer. When I was 11, my dad purchased a small 40mm refractor telescope
which he let me use on occasion. With it I was able to look at this little
patch of light. It turned out that the patch was a cluster of stars called
the Praesepe (also known as the Beehive Cluster) in the constellation
Cancer, the Crab.
By the time I was 12, I had most of the patterns of the northern hemisphere
constellations memorized. I would often go out and just look at the stars
with just my naked eye. Some of the more memorable events that kept me
interested in astronomy were:
I have started to share my love of the night sky with my two sons Mike (age
12) and Alex (age 6). Recently, I completed construction of a 6 inch reflecting telescope
for them to use as they wish. We can't wait to make a country run and use
it to look at Comet Hyakutake, which will hopefully be spectacular this
- Comet West (March 1976)
- several displays of northern lights
- the views of the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn through that little