Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An American Path to Space

I wrote this post yesterday, following my evaluated mini sim but didn't have the brain power to get it uploaded. Ignore the incorrect tenses...I didn't have the brain power today to change them ;-)

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Image credit: NASA

"The last time we launched an American manned spacecraft was July of 2011. There will be a planned LOS (loss of signal) at approximately 3pm to watch the press conference announcement and witness history."

He was right, the space shuttle last flew in July 2011, and we all knew from the e-mails that a press conference was expected this afternoon, but it wasn't until he mentioned halting the simulation and "witnessing history" that I realized the gravity of the announcement. For those who don't follow the NASA headlines, the announcement revealed which American company will transport US astronauts to the International Space Station. 

We learned that Boeing and SpaceX will take men and women from US soil to the International Space Station. This announcement and the work these companies have already put forward means we finally have a plan to replace the shuttle; it may sound like a small victory if your world doesn't revolve around NASA, but for us inside, it is a huge victory. Billions of dollars are promised to these contractors and Mission Control assets are already being prepared to support their teams. 

I feel like this experience could be one of those "war stories" days. "Yes, I remember when the commercial crew was announced. I was in the middle of my evaluated mini sim when the Flight director decided the announcement warranted pausing the simulation. We all looked up at the TVs and tuned our "loops" to the media coverage - the same loop system we use today to communicate with the vehicles and each other."

NASA's administrator, Charlie Bolden, said he was "giddy" with a giggle, and I was too. I was excited to finally be in the middle of some serious space action - new rockets and commercial crew vehicles were wrapped around me in a sort of symbolic embrace, right in the middle of heavy duty training to fly the International Space Station. The skills I'm learning now could prepare me to participate in these upcoming ventures, and this generation may finally get their hallowed "Apollo moment." In the spirit of complete disclosure, Chris has been working for the Boeing commercial crew team ever since our move to Houston, so this announcement was a milestone for NASA and a victory for Chris and the whole Boeing team. Lord knows I've been alone many Saturdays as he went to work and put in countless hours towards this goal.

America has a plan to get crews to ISS and beyond, three vehicles in total with at least a preliminary budget to support them. I hope these announcements move NASA past this "wallowing" stage where rockets come and rockets go, in sync with budgets and changing administrations. America deserves an American path to space, fingers crossed, we are on our way!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday: FTE Edition

It's Thursday, time for a throwback, also known as #tbt. Almost 4 years ago I was suiting up to fly in a special operations military helicopter for the very first time. I still remember everyone on board that day, and whether they know it or not, they have all left lasting impressions. Now that I am "slightly older Nerdy April" I'm so thankful for this little time capsule of those special days in Philadelphia. 

You can read the original posting here, it was October 2010. Also, apologies for the circa 2010 cell phone pics ;-)

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Dear Older Nerdy April,

Hopefully you are sitting in a comfortable chair, gazing out your floor-to-ceiling windows, pondering what you will make your family for dinner tonight, and taking note that you should get your Steinway tuned (haha!). I'm just here to remind you what it was like back in the day. You know, during that week of your life when you made your first helicopter flight and you thought you were literally on top of the world.



You thought life really couldn't get any better than stepping in your flight suit, lacing up your boots, and putting your helmet on in anticipation for something a lot of people only dream of...and there you were, little old (well, actually young) hotshot you, climbing on an MH-47G for your job!



You had a hard time placing those ear buds just right and an even harder time hooking your helmet up and getting comfortable, but you didn't care. You were excited to get the egress training and learn the workings of a Chinook in flight. You were grateful for SFC Boss in the back helping you strap into the harness and saving you from certain death while ramp-surfing.


Your abnormally cold self was pleasantly comfortable hanging out the window in search of nearby traffic and your little friend Diabetes, well he was rock solid at 160 throughout the flights. It seemed you had finally found your niche...a cozy spot, high above the terrain of the eastern US, among company that had seen more, done more and knew more than your little, naive brain could ever understand. Yup, you had made it. All those years of hard work were finally worth it, and the months-long battle with the FAA melted into the cool crisp air blowing in your face. No one could take these moments away from you now.

And when you landed, after a sky-view of the great Saturn V, you realized you have so much more to learn, so much more to contribute, so much more to experience. You were full of exuberance and excitement, a feeling of accomplishment, and a yearning to experience more. You were surprised how fulfilling it was to be a flight test engineer.

You are probably thinking, "Wow, I was so dramatic back then...I was that excited just to fly in a Chinook?" But you were, you really were. And maybe by now you have experienced even greater things, and I hope you have. Just remember, everyone starts somewhere, and a crisp afternoon aboard an MH-47G was not a bad place to start.

Sincerely, 23-year-old Nerdy April

Thursday, September 4, 2014

We are GO!

For some unknown reason all of my post-college jobs (read: real person jobs) have required a medical certificate. At my last job, as you probably recall, I pushed through the paperwork of an FAA Class 3 medical. And by "pushed through" I really mean, trudged through bureaucratic molasses. At times it was downright disheartening. Thankfully I had an amazing support group, a "military" family that encouraged and fought for me. Oh yeah, and flying on million dollar military aircraft was a pretty sweet reward!

In an unrelated turn of events I took my dream job with NASA and moved to Houston. All the while I dreaded coming face-to-face with another medical certificate. Throughout the interview and in-processing I made it known that "I have Type 1 Diabetes! Be aware!" I just didn't want this cross country move and dream job to turn into a big mistake. My mentors and management assured me it would work out, and I trusted them. Getting a NASA Flight Controller exam was just one of the many "boxes to check" in becoming certified.

I mentioned my initial exam here, and patiently waited for all of the information I gave to be presented to the "Medical Board", dun dun dun. I am thrilled to report that I am GO for Flight Controller duties (at least medically speaking)!! Last week the board granted me a waiver, Type 1 Diabetes and all. Maybe I impressed them with all of my medical devices and associated sensors, real-time telemetry and trend analysis, technical knowledge and years of Diabetes experience, but that's neither here nor there ;-)

With a humble heart and overjoyed little kindergarten-April jumping up and down inside of me, I am so so happy that we have another Type 1 win under our belt. "Going where no Type 1 Diabetic has gone before" has a new meaning today, it means piloting a multi-billion dollar space station!

My cockpit. Can you spot the Dexcom and cheerios? 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

At Dusk

The soft top folded neatly down,
The air hung heavy all around,
The moist air bubbled from the ground.

I choose passenger with a shrug,
The contoured seat gave me a hug,
These drives are escapes, a legal drug.

We greeted the Texas back roads,
And pounded out pavement Morse codes, 
Experienced a foreign zip code. 

But as the horizon cycled by,
I became aware of my probing eye,
Adjusting to the dim, slate black sky.

No more concerned with Earthly things,
My mind rose on soft, dainty wings,
Focus there relieved life’s stings.

Air streamed past my trance-like face,
I came unglued from this Texas place,
Reconnected with my first love…space.

There among the stagnant stars,
Flew a flash of light most bizarre, 
Pure bright, not a bit tinted like Mars. 

We accelerated, as did she, 
Different planes, yet commonality, 
Meeting each other had set us free. 

Simple tour with profound progress,
Satisfied a hunger, I confess,
At dusk we raced the I-S-S.

From here. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Free for All

It's Friday, and it's been a long week! This Nerdy April is ready for the weekend, but first a few gems from my phone this past week:

The grad school gods shown on Chris, he received his diploma!!! So proud!

Gus Grissom, the cat, has been sleeping in these weird positions lately. Or trying kitty yoga...maybe it's the sun salute cat style? Also, it could be the "please don't look at, pet, or generally bug me" position. 

And finally, there have been a ton of turtles in the ponds at work lately. This guy was straight chillin' when I walked by the other day ;-)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

NASA: 13 months + 6 days

I'm starting to sound like a proud mom spewing out toddler stats. But yes, its officially been 13 months and 6 days since I began this journey at NASA to become an Attitude Determination and Control Officer. So what have I been up to and how do I feel about it? Glad you asked. Ha.

And if you didn't, I'm gunna tell you anyway.

I have now completed all of my technical "knowledge capture" (in NASA terms), which means I successfully passed an 8 hour long oral exam with questions coming from my entire time here at NASA (exhausting). I also finished mini sim 19 out of 25 this week, and next week I will dabble in the next type of simulations, called "Integrated Sims". This type of sim is as close to the real thing as you can get, read: real Flight Director, real Russians, and all disciplines represented.

These are all the "technical specs" of where I am in training, but working at NASA is so much more than technical information. It is the culmination of years of hard work, determination, and motivation; and day-to-day I learn self confidence, problem solving and teamwork. I am constantly challenged to soak up information and present new ideas. My peers are all of those "super smart" kids in school, and somehow they allowed me access into their exclusive club. I feel absolutely honored.

Today I had a chance to OJT (on-the-job-training) in FCR-1. I didn't do much, in fact I pretty much just sat there and asked my mentor questions, followed along as we completed a reboost, and hawked the data like my life depended on it (this is what you do in sims because they throw everything and the kitchen sink at you). I got to see the astronauts doing their work and the flight control team doing theirs. And in the midst of all that, I made my official NASA TV debut. I'll be signing autographs later ;-)

Front left, where all pilots should be, including this ISS pilot ;-)
Trying to soak it all in!!
What I wore: polka dot dress with stretchy belt and mary janes. #missioncontrolstyle

Monday, August 4, 2014

What I Want, What I Really Really Want

Wow. There has been so much talk in the Diabetes Online Community recently about bypassing the FDA and creating "right now" solutions to Diabetes management. The "We are Not Waiting" crowd is using a mashup of CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) and smartwatch technology to remotely monitor young kids at school. I'm not a parent, but I can imagine that my thirst for number knowledge would have me cooking up something similar - in fact, I "designed" this type of cloud system on paper for my "Entrepreneurship for Engineers" course in undergrad. 

I have been thinking a lot about what I want my Diabetes Management resources to look like. As a wannabee runner I have ample time to dream up possibilities and analyze the feasibility. So, Dexcom, if you're out there...I would like to present my simple solution. It's not cloud based (although it could be) or reinventing the wheel. In my opinion its beautifully simple. And could be deployed in two phases if need be. 

My largest complaint about the Dexcom system is the receiver. It makes a weird lump in my pants pocket and is not easily accessible, like I feel this kind of data should be. [You didn't really think I would wear it on my belt in that weird case did you?] So, all I want is an option. Stuff all of those "receiver" parts into a watch. A sexy watch (like pebble), that lights up via touch technology for a quick glance whenever I want it. No more digging in my pocket, sometimes under a seat belt, to acknowledge the hi/low alarms. I want to be able to run and see my numbers while running unlike the current config where I have to stop running, fish CGM out of my running pocket, check it, fish it back in, and finally continue running (I've also tried to rig up an armband, but its equally frustrating and fashion-wise lame). When we order the CGM system, give us an option: regular old receiver (I'm sure there is a population who loves it already) or watch. The best part for you? This system cuts out the "cloud based middleman" ...no cellphone required and no complicated new technology, it's all stuff you are already giving us just in a different form. 


Phase 2: collaborate to design a meter that automatically sends finger stick readings to the receiver for calibration. We would love you long time. 

In summary, build us a watch that requires touch instead of physical exertion, that lights up or vibrates for the "alarms", that gives us much more situation awareness in a shorter amount of time...and all it requires is to design a new "case" for all those receiver parts.