Kathy Williams Southall
My current position is in the HST Operations and Ground Systems Project at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland since February '95. On a daily basis, I monitor engineers who work as contractors in the following subsystems: Electrical Power, Thermal Control, Data Management System, Instrumentation & Communications, and Safing. But I am also involved in STOCC Ops (Space Telescope Operations Control Center Operations) as part of the HST Second Servicing Mission Operations Team.
Basically, the subsystem engineers monitor the satellite in regards to their area of expertise. This ensures that the Support Systems Module, which encloses the Optical Telescope Assembly and the science instruments, is performing within specified limits indicating that subsystems needed to operate the HST are healthy. Major component subsystems of the Support Systems Module are: Structures and Mechanisms, Instrumentation and Communications, Data Management, Pointing Control, Electrical Power, Thermal Control, and Safing (contingency) system.
In preparation for the Second Servicing Mission, scheduled for Winter Quarter of 1997, several simulations take place to allow everyone to prepare for the SSM2. A variety of problems are artificially induced into the computer and participants respond accordingly to fix the problems. These contingencies may or may not occur during the servicing mission, but procedures have been created to guide the system engineers toward a solution. STOCC Ops directs the operators to send commands to the satellite in nominal cases as well as these contingency cases.
My interests in Math and Science go all the way back to elementary and high school. I maintained an A average throughout High School and chose all of the college preparatory classes. My Science Fair Project took me from the state to the international level where it placed fourth; this also provided me with a scholarship for college. My parents had instilled in all three of their children the importance of getting a college degree. I graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1981 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts (Political Science) with honors and in 1985 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with honors. My first engineering job was with McDonnell Douglas in Huntsville, Alabama in June 1985 where I worked in the Thermal Analysis group until the Challenger explosion. A group was then formed to work on the problem that caused the catastrophe, and I worked in that group performing stress calculations.
Two and a half years passed, and the Space Station bid went out. Boeing Aerospace won the Work Package One contract, and I left McDonnell Douglas and worked in the Systems Engineering group for Boeing for two and a half years. My experience with Boeing was invaluable because it provided opportunity. I worked as a lead for the Thermal Control System, the Fluid Management System, and the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) System. In 1988, Boeing paid for scuba diving lessons, and I earned my certification in preparation for the 1988 Space Station Freedom Neutral Buoyancy Test where I became the small subject (5'4") for the underwater simulations. This entailed wearing a space suit underwater. We were interested in the end cone areas where the modules connected and finding out whether or not a large or small astronaut could fit during EVA maintenance. In May 1990, I applied for a position with NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and began working as a civil servant in the Space Station Freedom (Level III) project development office where I was responsible for the Thermal Control System, Fluid Management System, and Maintenance in the areas of schedule, budget, and technical solutions.
In 1992, I married a Veterinarian named Rob on February 29 who was working for the USDA in Kentucky. Since we wanted to live in the same state, we both transferred to the Washington D.C. area. My job in Reston, Virginia, at the NASA Space Station Freedom Program Office (Level II) was very challenging. Using my Political Science degree and my Mechanical Engineering degree, I was able to successfully perform as the Project Integration Manager (PIM) for Work Package One which kept me linked to MSFC but allowed me to understand the bigger political picture in the Space Station arena by allowing me to interface with Work Package 2 (Johnson Space Flight Center) and Work Package 4 (Lewis Research Center) representatives as well as upper management. Both of my PIM counterparts were at the Grade 14/15 level; after a period of "proving myself ", management submitted the necessary paperwork to Level I in order to promote me to that level. However, as most everyone knows, the office at Reston was closed in the Fall of 1993 and was moved to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where a new space station with the Russians began development (thus interrupting my upward career path). Reston civil servants had a choice of working at Headquarters or working at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
I chose GSFC and began work in December of 1993 as a Contamination Engineer. I was leading the effort for the FUSE project and then it was canceled by Congress. I applied for another job at GSFC in order to gain some operations experience since the majority of my work had been in the development phase of a project.
So that's how I ended up working in the Hubble Space Telescope Office as the SSMM. In the year that passed I also had a baby girl, and she is 7 months old as of March 9; she's wonderful. My biggest hurdles have been the direct result of "starting all over" and understanding the HST management organization, procedures, and acronyms. I look forward to the Second Servicing Mission in 1997 in the STOCC Ops position. My work is very broad and involves attending several meetings to hear about the status of a particular subsystem or spacecraft problems. Because the majority of the contractors worked the First Servicing Mission, communication patterns have already been established, and it's up to me to continue trying to become a part of the network. I am also finishing up a Master's Degree in Engineering Management in the Fall of '96.
Juggling a family, a job, and school is very tough as well as chairing the Public Relations Committee in the Junior League of Annapolis in my spare time. My priorities have shifted over the past year, and I am learning how valuable time is and how I should spend it. I used to enjoy scuba diving, snow skiing, and swimming.
My advice to students would be to study hard and play hard. Get a well-rounded education by choosing electives that are totally different from your major. Work in the summers at a job that is similar to the one you plan to fill after graduation. Recognize that your degree is just a stepping stone and does not necessarily rule your future niche. Methodical study habits are required in the Engineering curriculum, and time management is your biggest hurdle. Expand your horizons to include extra-curriculum activities such as sororities, fraternities, etc where you will learn how to effectively communicate. Expect that Life is full of challenges and disappointments. Be flexible when the hard times hit, and maintain your hope in the future. Don't ever feel that you have arrived--keep your avenues open for learning new things and continue learning as long as you live.