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Meet: Richard Alena

photo of Richard Alena
Computer Engineer


Who I Am and What I Do
For LCROSS operations, I hold the position of telecom analyst, responsible for predicting the space communication link data rates and margins during various phases of flight. This means running sophisticated simulations of the spacecraft trajectory and attitude to determine its distance and antenna pointing to each Deep Space Network Ground Station. The space link is used for sending commands to LCROSS and receiving telemetry and science data from the spacecraft. For LCROSS development, I was a member of the Ground Data System engineering team, responsible for defining requirements and configuration management and performing the integration and testing of the networks, workstations and software used for the ground segment of the LCROSS Mission Operations System.

Areas of expertise
My primary expertise is computer system development, with an emphasis on radio systems, mobile networks and devices for supporting space exploration. This would include small spacecraft and instruments, informatics for astronauts and even embedded capabilities for advanced information display and navigation. I am part of the Discovery and System Health Technical area in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames.

How I first became interested in this profession
I had a strong interest in the natural sciences, particularly geology, and worked on many different projects involving mechanical and electrical devices as a kid. This matured into pursuing an Engineering degree in college with associated advanced degrees in plasma physics and computer science.

What helped prepare me for this job
An engineering education with an eagerness to learn on the job (as with programming, systems engineering, project management, teamwork, procurement and contracting, materials, government regulations and specifications, word processing, computer analysis tools, computer graphics and animation, and manufacturing processes).

Role Models
My father, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Wright Brothers, Werner Von Braun, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick (2001), Bertrand Russell, M.C. Escher, a select few Sci-Fi writers, the people at Dreamworks, Pixar, and ILM, Renoir, Monet, Dali, Hildebrandt Brothers, Chesley Bonestell Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniac, some great co-workers, excellent physics and chemistry teachers at Glendale City College.

My education and training

  • High School: Don Bosco Technical Institute, Rosemead CA.
  • College/University: University of California at Berkeley, B.S and M.S. in Electrical
  • Engineering and Computer Science.
Career path
Worked on multiprocessor-based computing systems for office automation and music synthesis right after college. Formed and managed electronics development team directing design and fabrication of x-ray detection arrays, precision data acquisition, digital data communication and servo motion control for Computed Tomography scanners. Chief architect of flight experiment conducted aboard Shuttle and Mir using laptop computers, personal digital assistants and servers in a wireless network for International Space Station. Led the design and development of distributed mobile data systems supporting geological and biological scientific surveys in the Canadian Arctic and American Desert, investigating wearable computing for multi-agent simulations. Co-lead for Advanced Diagnostic Systems for International Space Station Project, developing model-based diagnostic tools for space operations.

What I like about my job
The challenge of the missions, the use of new and advanced technology and the opportunity to work with brilliant motivated people are the major pluses.

What I don't like about my job
The schedule and performance demands, particularly related to NASA missions, means I often have to postpone vacations.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Stay in school and find the subjects that evoke your passion. Join up with others interested in the same topics and goals.

Personal Interests:
Music, camping, hiking, photography, art, travel and cycling.

NASA Honor Group Achievement Award, LCROSS Project Team, 2009.
Silver Snoopy Award 2002
NASA Space Act Award 2002, A Comprehensive Toolset for Model-Based Health Monitoring and Diagnostics.
NASA Group Achievement Award 1998, ISS Phase 1 Program Team
Space Flight Awareness Award, 1997


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