My job is to help astronomers to use the Hubble Space Telescope. When astronomers are given time to use the Hubble, we make sure that there is plenty of information for them to read. Often, however, the best thing for astronomers is to have someone at the Space Telescope Science Institute that they can contact to help them put together their observing program. I am one of those people, a "Program Coordinator", who helps astronomers to put together their observing programs, and to answer questions about Hubble.
My specialty is in the Wide Field & Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), so most of the astronomers I work with are trying to take pictures of stars, galaxies, nebulae, etc. That's great for me, because I love pretty pictures!
After astronomers write their observation programs and submit them to the Space Telescope Science Institute, I take those programs and check them to be sure that they are written properly, and then I find out when those observations are going to be sent up to the Hubble Space Telescope, so I can get them ready in time. Often, I talk to many people, both here and outside the institute, about the observations I'm working on. So, I get a lot of e-mail and telephone calls.
Once all that is done, I can give the observation to the scheduler's, and then I go back to work on the next observation...
Since I work "behind the scenes" at Hubble, I don't always get to see the pictures I help to take; I'm always working on the next observations. However, once in a while, I'll see a beautiful picture of something taken by Hubble, realize what it is, and say, "Hey! I helped to take that!"
I really love my job because when I was a young boy, I spent all my time watching "Star Trek" and reading science fiction. I used to go outside at night and look at the moon and planets with my telescope. I decided that I wanted to be an astronomer when I was about 5 years old.
I got my first job in astronomy when I was 13 years old. I went to work at the the nearby Sproul Observatory at Swarthmore College. I liked it a lot because I got to do real astronomy, and everyone there treated me really nice, despite my age.
When I went to Villanova University 6 years later, I majored in Liberal Arts. I spent my freshman year taking all the math courses that I was too afraid to take in High School. Even though it was hard for me. I was allowed to switch my major to astronomy, and I went on to learn a lot of physics, math, computers, and astronomy.
I earned my degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Villanova University in the spring of 1992, and came to work here at the Space Telescope Science Institute that fall. I am so glad I did, because now I am working on the neatest venture in astronomy today. Looks like I became an astronomer, after all!
Today, I live in Hampstead, Maryland, with my wife, Jeri, and my two cats, Antigone and Misha. Jeri is writing her first book, and Antigone and Misha beat each other up. It's fun.
My biggest hobby is photography (I said I like pretty pictures, right?). I'm also in the Civil Air Patrol, where I fly with aircrews to help rescue people from airplane crashes. I also enjoy talking to people about the Hubble Space Telescope, and showing others what we are seeing with it. I've given talks and sideshows at schools, churches, community groups, and have even traveled to Star Trek and science fiction conventions. Since I've always liked science fiction, I really enjoy meeting with people and telling them about a little science fact.
I think that if anyone is interested in becoming an astronomer, or other scientist, but is a little afraid of the math, let me give this advice: Once you actually start to work on it, it becomes a little easier. It's really not hard, but it is different than writing English or learning history. Never get discouraged by a bad grade, or a lousy teacher. Always ask questions, even if you are clueless. You'll be surprised at how teachers will react when you come to them for extra help, and when you tell them what you want to do in life. And, if you don't like their answer, ignore them. My 10th grade chemistry teacher told my mom that I would never, ever, go anywhere in science. Since I was not doing well in his class, he thought I would never learn chemistry, or anything else. Guess what?
The bottom line: if you decide that you really want to do something, don't let anything stop you. You will do it if you decide you will!