System Administrator and
Senior Systems Engineer
How did you become a System Administrator and Senior Systems Engineer at NASA?
When I got out of the navy I got a job with the Bendix Field Service group helping support NASA's Pioneer series spacecraft. I fixed things and wrote software. I got to re-write the down-link software for Pioneer 10 in 1995 and that is still working. Near the end of the Pioneer missions I was let go and went to work teaching at night field service engineers for Lam Research. After a year and a half I got a chance to come back and help NASA show the data they were going to get from the Lunar Prospector mission to the public. Orbital Sciences Corp. brought me on-board in the same building I worked for Bendix. I modified software so that the data from the Lunar Prospector instruments could be looked at on the Lunar Prospector web site. I have remained in Orbital's employment helping support NASA with outreach and equipment support. By going to night school I finally finished my college degree and got a Bachelor of Science in Computer Electronics. Starting college after a 26 year break is not the way I suggest one gets their college degree although the real world experience had been good. The Navy had sent me to some 19 courses in the field of electronics and management.
What does an "Aviation Electronics Warrant Officer" do?
An Aviation Electronics Warrant Officer came up through the enlisted ranks in a specialty field, in this case electronics, and then is tasked with the management of the personnel he is put in charge of. Knowing about electronics makes it easier to understand and help those working for you do their job in the electronics field.
What is your daily work routine?
About 70% posting information to the lunar-update list and answering questions from the folks on the list. I maintain the Lunar Prospector web site and the Space Projects division web site and back up servers for databases the support the upcoming SOFIA mission. Also maintain some old, old computers that support the few Pioneer 10 tracks that we get once and awhile.
The down-link telemetry system is running on an old Mac Quadra 950 and if we need to command we will need to use PC emulating an old PDP-11/44 system.
Clementine and Lunar Prospector discovered signatures of water on the moon. What kind of mission must we send in the future to find out for sure?
The signatures from Clementine were taken from RADAR images that had distortions that might have been caused by water. The data from Lunar Prospector was from Neutron and Gamma Ray spectrometers that indicated a presence of hydrogen that was taken to mean hydrogen bound with oxygen as water. If probes were dropped in the meteor craters that had mass spectrometers on them they could sample the regolith. Other instruments could also be used to sample the surroundings. If you sent live astronauts then they could heat samples and see if water vapor was given off.
Do you think finding an answer to the question ("Is there water on the Moon?") will answer questions or create more questions?
Hydrogen as a gas would not stay around in the vacuum that is on the Moon, but bound up with oxygen, it could be there frozen as ice in the shadowed meteor craters there. Some scientists argue that the hydrogen might be chemically bound with other elements and not be water ice. If it truly is ice, it could easily be boiled out of the frozen regolith. This could be used to support a lunar base if we wanted to send humans to the Moon. If bound some other way, you could get the hydrogen out, but you would need to get oxygen from the rocks to go with the hydrogen to make drinkable water. A lot more trouble.
If the craters contain water ice, there might be the added question where did it come from. Comets and some meteors have water in them. Of recent there have been indications that early forms of sugar like chemicals may be in comets. These are the materials that early life forms use as building blocks. We are sending missions to look at comets more closely.
Before we drink up all this newly found water on the Moon (if it is water ice) we might want to analyze this water too and see if we have other interesting materials trapped there. On Earth where we find water we often find life forms even in the ice packs. Some have thought that early life may have rained in on Earth. If that were the case it might have rained in on the Moon too. We want to go to Mars to look for life there. Maybe we could find something interesting in cold storage right here on our Moon. We will want to make sure we have very clean probes to make sure we don't bring our own contaminates and confuse the results.
One bit of information leads to more questions. We need only to ask the questions. Finding the answers is what makes it fun.
What is the most important thing that we learned from Lunar Prospector?
I suppose the thought that there might be water on our Moon would be high up there. It would make it a lot easier to set up a base camp for astronauts if you did not have to take up 5 gallon cans of water from Earth.
We also have learned a lot about the minerals that are there and we have a much better picture of the gravitational differences around the Moon. This has an affect on satellites and spacecraft that might orbit the Moon again and it helps describe how the interior of the Moon might be laid out. This lets us use the Moon to help us put together ideas on how the planets formed and how the Moon came to be.
Are computers unreliable pieces of technology or a godsend?
I have had a number of computers that don't always seem reliable but I still think they have been and are very useful. In the last twenty years they have gone from filling a room with very limited ability to sitting on your desktop doing fantastic things.
Why do YOU think we should we go back to the moon?
Why go back to the moon? Because it is there and we like to challenge the unknown.
I think the human brain likes to contemplate problems and find solutions. It gives life a purpose.
In taking on a return to the Moon you could do good science, you could develop a new economy, you could improve life here on Earth, you could save mankind.
What do you say to people who saw the FOX television broadcast about the Lunar Landing hoax and believe that humans never went to the Moon?
It might be interesting to watch a debate on television but it does an injustice to the thousands of people that worked on the Apollo missions, it does an injustice to those that died in that quest, it would have been a very bad use of the billions of dollars spent, if it was just a hoax.
We went to and around the Moon on Apollo 8, 10, and 13. We have many pictures from just those missions. We landed and came back with many more pictures and rock samples from Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17. We used the Saturn rocket with the Russians in follow on mission here around Earth.
Both the Russians and the USA had sent spacecraft to the Moon before the Apollo missions and the Japanese have since sent a spacecraft as well. We have saved a misguided communications satellite by sending it around the Moon and back to Earth. It is just not fair to all of those that have participated and worked on the Apollo missions to say that it was all a hoax.
I personally don't even want to bother discussing the hoax claims for they are not founded on good science and for someone that believes we did not go it won't change their minds with my talking. If someone just wants to have better information about what the FOX television broadcast was claiming, a very good web site that will take you through, and explain where they are off, is: BadAstronomy.com
What do you believe was the most important legacy of the NASA Apollo missions?
It changed the way we look at the Moon, but even more it changed the way we look at Earth. The Apollo 8 picture of Earth Rise, as the command module came around from the backside of the Moon on Christmas Eve, lets us see how fragile the Earth is and how beautiful this Blue Marble is:
What does "Kaw Hang" mean? How is the phrase used in relation to you?
Kaw Hang is my transliteration of the Thai phrase that means "Throat Dry". My wife, Sangad is Thai, and when I have been talking too long she will ask me "Kaw Hang Chai Mai?!" which would mean, "Is your throat dry, yes?!" or should I go get a drink and let someone else talk. If I have been writing too long and feel I have exceeded my quota of space, I will often end my message with "Kaw Hang" or "Throat Dry" and give someone else a chance to write.
Larry recommends the following websites for planetary and lunar research:
- 28 June 2002
4 July 2002
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