Monday, August 30, 2010

Dragon*Con countdown: Kim Steadman, spacecraft flight systems engineer

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 8:16 AM

HIGH-FLIERS: Kim Steadman (right) and friend
  • Courtesy of Kim Steadman
  • HIGH-FLIERS: Kim Steadman (right) and friend
Every year, Dragon*Con’s celebrity guest list includes more than TV/movie actors with cult followings. Culture Surfing counts down to the Labor Day fantasy convention with a series of short profiles of Dragon*Con guests who specialize in more surprising disciplines.

What is your title, and where do you live?
I work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. My job title is Flight Systems Engineer and I work on the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. In 2008, Cassini completed its four-year prime mission and began the first extended mission called the Cassini Equinox Mission. We are just starting our extended-extended mission (better known as the Cassini Solstice Mission), which is planned to last until 2017.
I live in Southern California with my wonderful husband, Scott, and our two cats, Merry and Pippin.

What do you do in your job?
I am a member of the Cassini spacecraft office and it’s our job to ensure the health and safety of the spacecraft. As a flight systems engineer, I review sequence files before they are sent to the spacecraft to make sure they meet the science and engineering requirements and ensure that no flight rules are broken.
Another part of my job involves development, implementation, and execution of maneuvers on the spacecraft. This means I get to command Cassini to fire her engines and then monitor the telemetry as it arrives at JPL to make sure everything went well.
I also support the Titan Science Team integrating science and engineering activities for Titan flybys.

How did you get interested in this vocation?
I have been interested in manned spaceflight for as long as I can remember. I read everything I could about the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs as I was growing up. I was also fascinated with a show in reruns called “Star Trek.” I wanted to go on that “five year mission!” My goal was to become an astronaut but my eyesight was too poor to meet NASA’s standards. So I did the next best thing and became an Aerospace Engineer. I earned my BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech. Go Jackets!

Have you been to Dragon*Con before, what will you be doing this year as an official guest?
I grew up in Lilburn, Ga., and lived near there until I moved to California in 1998. While I lived in Georgia, I attended Dragon*Con many times. After I moved to California, I have returned to Dragon*Con a couple of time with last year being my first time as a guest at the con.
This year I will be doing a talk about the Cassini mission on Saturday at 7 p.m. Following that I will be on a panel with several other JPL employees chatting about what it’s like working there. On Sunday at 4 p.m., I will be doing a Science vs. Engineering talk with a co-worker. We will try to give everyone a sense of the trade-offs between science and engineering on a mission as complex as Cassini. My final panel will be on Monday at 10 a.m. and is called “Your Daughter Can, Too.”

Do you have a message about your vocation that can sum up in a sentence?

The robotic exploration of space is cool and should continue!

Is there an aspect of genre fandom or Dragon*Con events that appeals to you from outside your professional field? Are you a fan, too?

Definitely! I collected comics when I was young (my favorites were X-Men and Iron Man). I am also a huge fan of TV shows like "Star Trek TOS," "Star Trek TNG," and "Babylon 5." In addition I am a fanatic about Disney animated movies, Lord of the Rings (the movies and the books), and Harry Potter. So, there will be a lot of panels at Dragon*Con that I will be trying to see outside the Space Track.

What's your web site?
Fort more information on the Cassini-Huygens mission visit the official webpage at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm.
You can also follow me at: http://twitter.com/kim_steadman

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