Halloween is a big deal at JPL. Not only is it a great opportunity to be creative and dress up, it’s also JPL’s birthday. Each year JPL celebrates this milestone and holiday with a costume contest, pumpkin carving contest, and a number of other fun activities. After being a spectator for many years, I finally participated in the costume contest last year as a Minion Astronaut with a good friend and coworker, utilizing our recently acquired Adult Space Camp flight suits (more about that in a future blog) and fun DIY jet packs and glasses from soda bottles and Mason jar lids.
My latest CubeSat project, Lunar Flashlight, is on its way to the Moon! As the name suggests, Lunar Flashlight will “illuminate” permanently shadowed craters of the Moon using a laser instrument to search for water ice. The journey to the Moon will take four months, and then the real excitement begins as the toaster oven-sized satellite orbits the Moon and sends back laser measurements that could one day be used for human habitation on or near the lunar surface.
My STEM-inspired sewing endeavors started in 2019 after a desire to have a space-themed dress for outreach activities. After two dresses, a blog post, and getting to share my sewing and artistic passions in late 2020 via the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launch media events, I wanted my next STEM-themed sewing project to take things to the next level — it was going to twinkle! I’ve always enjoyed seeing garments that light up, and I decided it was time to have one of my own.
While celebrating my 10 year work anniversary at JPL earlier this year (Feb 2021), I serendipitously was saying farewell to a project and team I had been managing for the past five years. RainCube, which stands for Radar in a CubeSat, is an Earth Science mission that successfully demonstrated the first active radar on a CubeSat. In 2015, when I started leading a feasibility study for the RainCube mission concept, radars and CubeSats were somewhat of an oxymoron. CubeSats are miniature satellites with modest capabilities compared to traditional satellites, and traditional space radars require a lot of satellite resources (power, mass, volume, etc.). Fortunately, CubeSat technologies were quickly advancing while the development of a miniaturized radar at JPL was showing a lot of promise. This ultimately led to a competed mission proposal and selection by NASA and the beginning of my five year journey as the RainCube Project Manager.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday, November 21st. Notoriously known for the marine layer that covers this area in fog and often obstructs the view of rocket launches, I had low expectations (but high hopes) for good visibility of the Sentinel-6 launch. At T-0 on launch day, we had beautiful fall weather, low winds, and clear skies, and Sentinel-6 launched with spectacular views.
JPL is mostly known for its Mars rover missions (such as Spirit & Opportunity and the more recent rovers that you can read about in my first blog post) and deep space missions such as Voyager and Cassini. However, JPL also contributes significantly to Earth Science missions for NASA – missions that study our planet and help us better understand how it is changing. In fact, up to 25% of JPL’s business on average is dedicated to Earth Science, and most of my career at JPL thus far has been working on satellites that orbit and monitor the Earth.
From the sock puppet I made in elementary school to fixing minor issues with my clothes, I’ve always had an affinity for sewing. My mom and younger sister sew (and knit) as well, so one could say it runs in the family. :) In 2014, I decided to up my sewing game mainly because I wanted the skills to design and construct my own costumes for Halloween, Cosplay, themed events, and so on. My mom gifted me a sewing machine, I took a few sewing lessons, and (with guidance and help from The Sewing Studio in Old Town Pasadena) I made my first costume from scratch – Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games. To commemorate this milestone in my sewing endeavors, I did a photoshoot of the finished product with my husband, who is a photography hobbyist.
After moving to the Los Angeles area in 2011, I noticed a common question from people I met outside of work: “Do you work in the industry?” I genuinely didn’t know what this meant at first and asked, “What industry? Aerospace?” After all, there are over 20 aerospace companies in the greater Los Angeles area alone and I just started my new job at JPL. I quickly learned that “The Industry” referred to the entertainment industry (film, television, etc.) since we are very close to Hollywood and it’s quite common to come across someone who works in this field. Hence the frequent question when meeting new people around Los Angeles.
In February 2011, I started my career at JPL as a Systems Integration and Test Engineer. I was hired into the Environmental Test Lab (ETL), which is the group that manages and operates the facilities that simulate the various mission environments and test our flight hardware to ensure it will survive the extreme conditions of space. For example, ETL uses shakers and acoustic chambers to simulate the rocket launch and thermal vacuum chambers to simulate the temperatures and vacuum of space and other planets.
I am an aerospace engineer working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. This site is to share my adventures working on space missions and space applications – the good, the bad, and the explosive! I also plan to share details of my outreach activities to encourage others to pursue their interests in aerospace and other STEM fields.