Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Totally Fake and Contrived Interview with the Author

This, then, brings us to the actual introduction of this blog, justifiably titled A Totally Fake and Contrived Interview with the Author. Allow me the poetic freedom — there's that term again — to pretend to be you, my distinguished audience:

>>> Ok, uh-huh, so, right. Who are you?

According to my long-form birth certificate, a human. 

>>> No no no. Like, who are you?
Oh, right! My name and stuff. My name is Matt Lenda and I bench press a reasonable 175 pounds and I like hockey and my favorite guitarist is Derek Trucks and… 

>>> No no no, relevant stuff. What do you do for MER?

Oh, right! 

Starting over: My name is Matt Lenda and I am a Tactical Activity Planner and Sequence Integration Engineer (TAP/SIE) for the MER project. I have been at the Jet Propulsion Lab since July 2010. I am one of the few MER tactical team members that splits their time between MER and other missions, so I stick out like a sore thumb. (More on this later. It is important. I promise.) I do about half my time with MER and the rest of my time with a bona fide melting pot of other missions such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Spitzer Telescope, and Juno. I am in group 317-C, the ever-glorious "Multi-mission Planning and Sequencing Systems" group. We develop, maintain, and use spacecraft modeling tools and processes that are inherently applicable to any kind of deep-space robotic mission — hence, "multi-mission."

(FYI: So-called "flagship" missions like MER, Cassini, and MSL have their own group, 317-B. With the exception of the Rover Planners, almost everyone else on the MER tactical uplink team is in this group.)

>>> What else do you do at JPL?

Lots of stuff. Currently: attitude pointing allocation requirements verification for the Juno mission; mission sequencing for the Spitzer telescope; and some mission planning for MEX. In the past: attitude command and geometry model development for Juno mission planning and sequencing; enhanced downlink analysis and process development for MRO; relay performance analysis for MRO; and about 12 other things.

>>> Where did you go to school?
The University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. You know, the most awesomest (sic) school ever.

>>> What was your major?
Aerospace Engineering. I qualified for and finished the accelerated 5-year combined BS/MS program in May 2010, concentrating in Vehicle Systems and Controls for my MS. I actually studied aircraft autopilot control systems for my MS as a continuation of my capstone senior design project, the Miniature Aircraft Deployment System (MADS) -- think of it as an "airborne aircraft carrier." Including both my undergraduate and graduate curricula, only about half my classes were actually related to space. Excellent program.

(/shameless CU plug)

>>> Where else have you worked?
Since the summer before my junior year at CU in 2007, I worked in Missions Operations and Data Systems (MO&DS) at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), a CU institution about a mile east of the main Boulder campus. There, I did real-time mission operations and engineering health and safety analysis for ICESAT, QuikSCAT, SORCE, AIM, and the Kepler Mission. My job title was "Command Controller." 

99% boredom, 1% sheer terror. Killer gig.

Fun fact: I was the Command Controller on console during the launch of the Kepler Mission, and I was the first person to "talk" to Kepler — a simple no-operation command, but nonetheless, a command. I was driving (ahem, flying) that beast, along with about 15 other students my age. We were the end of the command chain, the ones who pressed "enter" to send up those 1's and 0's. Kepler was also my first experience with a so-called "deep space" mission; all the others are (were, for ICESat) LEOs.

I stayed with LASP from that first summer through my MS graduation in May 2010, moving out to Pasadena for my current gig at JPL a month later. This LASP job is the sole reason, I think, that I got the opportunity (Get it? Get it? GET IT?) to work at JPL.

(/shameless LASP plug)

>>> How much of your education do you use in your job on a daily basis?
Nonsensical question! It rests on the ill-supported notion that engineers don't use much of their education in their jobs. (Whoever is perpetuating this rumor: Stop it.) I'll quote Akin's 21st Law to clarify my experience: "Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which." 

So, about half.

>>> What's your dream job?
Righteous question! As if it even needs stating: Like, duh, to be Joe Bonamassa*. Helping to operate cars on Mars ain't a bad thing to settle for, though.

>>> Can you get Oppy's autograph for my kid?

>>> What about Steve Squyres'?

Also no.

>>> Can I send you my resumé?
Say, that's a nice jacket you have there… 


*All linked videos are required watching (and please note this blog's Disclaimer!). Non-watchers will be hunted down and… well, actually, I won't do anything about it. I'll just be disappointed. Like a parent.


alschopenhauer said...

Well, actually, until now; i didn't knew who writes "The Road to Endeavour" (now i know is Stuart Atkinson).
So i don't care who writes; but you are an !eminence! Good for you, you're giving confidence.

Where is Opportunity?
Where are the photos?
Where are the diagrams, plots?

I´m a lay person, so excuse me. In this moment I'm more interested about asking. What do you think about budget cuts to NASA? About not sending JWT?

Matt Lenda said...

Ah, indeed, good questions!

Check out Stuart's blog for the current position and photos. Since I just started this blog, it'll be a few posts before I get into regular posts with pictures and such.

As for NASA's budget cuts, I don't know much about them -- why they've been proposed, etc. I would hate to see JWST get cut.

Glenn Fishbine said...

keep writing. As a former blogger, it's a lot harder to post content than you think. Takes time. Do good and I'll send you on a blind date with my daughter, who doesn't know how to spell Mars, and doesn't know we have cars on Mars. She does like Sushi.... :)