Meet: Darin Foreman
Project Systems Engineer (PSE)
NASA Ames Research Center
Who I am and what I do
I am the Project
Systems Engineer (PSE) for the LCROSS mission that will attempt to answer
the question of whether or not there is water in the shadowed craters
on the Moon. My role on the project is to lead the technical aspects
of the mission and ensure that the spacecraft we develop for the mission
will accomplish its goals. This involves writing many of the plans that
will guide development, defining the requirements for the mission, developing
and analyzing designs,setting and monitoring margins, defining interfaces,
monitoring contractors, working with vendors on procurements, testing,
etc. In general I ensure that the integrated system will do what it is
designed to do and that all the technical aspects of the system will
work together as a whole. Any technical issues and problems that come
up, I have to decide on the best way to handle them.
Areas of expertise
For a lead systems engineering role like this, you have to know
just about everything there is to know about building and flying a spacecraft.
From development processes, requirements analysis and design, mechanical,
thermal, electrical, environmental, reliability and fault analysis, software
design and development, integration and test, sub-contractor management,
launch vehicles, mission design aspects, spacecraft navigation, science
and instruments, networking, RF environments and communications, mathmatics,
some physics and even chemistry! Of course I rely heavily on many talented
people I work with that are specialists in each of these areas, but I am
ultimately responsible for many of the decisions and directions in all
these areas so you have to know what's going on. The proverbial jack of
all trades kind of position.
How I first became interested in this profession
Good question! I think I was always fascinated with NASA and
distinctly remember as a 6-year-old watching the Apollo 11 mission landing
on the moon and Neil Armstrong taking that first step. So I guess I would
say as far back as I can remember, I've always been interested in a career
that would allow me to work in areas related to space.
The point I actually
made the decision to become an engineer was after high school graduation.
I was living in Southern Oregon working as a farm hand on Ginger Rogers'
ranch, driving tractors, bailing and bucking hay, and putting up miles
of fencing to keep in her cattle. Added to that, it was usually a 100
degrees or more, and I quickly decided that ranching was way too hard
to be doing for minimum wage! I decided that summer I was going to
college and chose Software Engineering since I thought it looked like
it had a lot of future potential for job opportunities. I wasn't thinking
I'd be able to work with NASA at the time, it was really more about
opportunity for the future and the computer world was taking off right
This profession of working in a space related environment
kind of fell in my lap when I got offered a job out of college for
what I thought was a phone company. I soon learned that the government
division of this phone company was anything but a phone company and
developed communication and defense systems working with many space-based
assets. My space career interest as an adult really began there as
I got to know what was really going on in space.
What helped prepare me for this job
25 years ago out of high school, I never thought I would
be developing spacecraft for NASA! I was very mechanically oriented
from an early age and have always had to know how everything works.
I was forever tearing things apart like electrical motors, bikes, motorcycles,
lawnmower engines, etc. By the time I was 15 I had already bought a
car and had rebuilt the engine and transmission, and wasn't even able
to drive yet! Summers during college I took all kinds of odd jobs,
as a welder at a wood-stove company, working on high-steel in Houston
building a skyscraper, a technician at a disk drive manufacturer, and
of course building and rebuilding muscle cars at every opportunity.
I think all of this helped in understanding mechanical issues, electronics,
testing and troubleshooting, etc. that all have helped in my career.
I think a general thirst for knowledge is what is most important, and
I learned many things by doing them rather than reading them.
As a kid I was always fascinated by the great explorers and inventors
and loved to read about them. Basically pioneers that reached out into
the unknown and discovered so many things we take for granted now.
My education and training
I went to college at Oregon Institute of Technology and got my B.S. degree
in Computer Systems Engineering and Technology minoring in Electrical
Engineering. Over the years I've taken many courses from silicon valley
area universities, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara University.
I've attended many seminars, workshops, and training throughout my career
that have also been invaluable. Most of all though, I think the best
training is just getting into the thick of it and doing what you have
to do to get the job done. I've had a couple of excellent mentors that
were often able to help me when I was at a loss of what to do and they
helped me learn from their experiences as well.
My career path
I started out of college as a software engineer developing strategic
defense systems and quickly advanced into a lead programmer role. Over
time I took on more responsibilities and expanded to the system engineering
aspects of systems. I took on line-management duties for a team of 20
engineers, but ultimately decided that I would rather stay more technically
oriented. I was technical lead on a couple medium-sized projects and
ultimately was responsible for a very large program.
After that (13 years)
I changed companies and worked as a senior systems engineer for another
government contractor develping tactical intel systems where I greatly
expanded my knowledge in communications, networking, mechanical and
thermal designs. After a few years there, I accepted a position at NASA
as a contractor.
I helped NASA Ames setup their software engineering
process group to help the center mature its software development practices.
A position became available leading the development of the ground data
system for an International Space Station science program known as
the Biological Research Project (SSBRP) and also developing all the
astronaut interfaces for experimental habitats that would be on the station.
This ultimately was cancelled, and I began working on an
FAA program developing an archive for capturing all the electronic telemetry
for commercial passenger flights so it can be analyzed for safety related
issues and trends. I was the lead architect on this and designed the
system and requirements, supported implementation, integration and
testing, etc. Just after deployment of that FAA system and it going operational,
I was offered my present position as Project Systems Engineer on
What I like about my job
It's very challenging and fast paced. It's something new, and I'm always
learning new things. I especially enjoy working with this team of very
What I don't like about my job
It is pretty demanding and takes away from family time more than I woud
My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Don't be afraid to try new things and get your hands
dirty figuring out how and why things work. If you ever catch yourself
that was cool, I wonder how they do that?" - figure it out. Learn
as much as you can in the hard sciences and engineering. Take educational
opportunities seriously, learn everything you can. There is so much
information available now to take advantage of. Take responsibility
for your path and don't be afraid to make decisions and choices. They
may not always be the right ones. We learn as much or more from our
mistakes than we do from our successes. Don't be afraid or reluctant
to do something the hard way if it is the right way. I'm reminded
of line from a song in the '80s by The The - "The path of least
resistance, leads to the garbage heap up there"