Driving Cassini: Doctoral Student Controls Spacecraft in Mission’s Final Days
By Jason Maderer – When the Cassini spacecraft plunges into Saturn on September 15 to end a nearly two-decade mission, Georgia Tech student Michael Staab will have a front row seat. It’s almost literally the driver’s seat.
Staab is working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California while pursuing his aerospace engineering doctoral degree in the distance learning program. He’s a Cassini Spacecraft Flight Controller, which means he’s one of only three people authorized to tell the machine what to do and where to go as it orbits Saturn.
The job is almost finished. Just before 8 a.m. (Atlanta time) on Friday, Staab will hear Cassini’s signal for the final time before it dives into the planet’s atmosphere, becoming a part of Saturn.
Prior to attending Georgia Tech, I was a flight test engineering intern at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California and, later, a test requirements and analysis engineer for Boeing in St. Louis. I had a lot of control room and operations experience, which is exactly what JPL was looking for.
The duty of a flight controller at JPL is fairly straight-forward; we possess absolute command and control authority of the spacecraft when tracking it through the Deep-Space Network. more> https://goo.gl/aAU76G
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