Veronica T. Pinnick put NASA’s PACE mission to the test | Trending Viral hub


To achieve the impossible, Veronica T. Pinnick, who tested NASA’s PACE mission in its pre-launch stages, says you need to get comfortable with discomfort.

Name: Dr. Veronica T. Pinnick

Qualification: Plankton Aerosol, Cloud and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Integration and Test (I&T) Manager

Formal job classification: Chemical

Organization: Integration and Testing Branch, Electrical Engineering Division (Code 568)

What do you do and what is the most interesting part of your role here at Goddard?

As director of PACE I&T, I managed the construction of the entire observatory. Integration means we put together the spacecraft. Testing means we make sure it works within itself and that it will also work in space.

Why did you become a chemist? What is your academic training?

In third grade, we did a science experiment that involved pulling colors from a black maker, which turned out to be a mixture of many colors. It was the first time my little scientific brain exploded! I learned that maybe not everything was as it seemed at first, it was great. Years later, I am now doing the same experiment (chromatography) on Mars, observing soil and breaking it apart to see what it is made of.

I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Minot State University in North Dakota. I have a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Texas A&M University. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland.

How did you get to Goddard?

My postdoctoral fellowship involved a Goddard project, designing an instrument to search for life on Mars. I thought it was an interesting application of my specialty! After my fellowship, I joined Goddard in 2010 and worked on that same project for 10 more years.

Towards the end of that project, I became the I&T manager responsible for building, testing and delivering that instrument to an ESA (European Space Agency) Mars rover. During those years, I realized that I wanted to change my career path more toward engineering.

Why did you merge science and engineering in your career?

Branching out to try new things can be scary. I think what I enjoy most about working at Goddard is that there are endless opportunities for people who are comfortable being uncomfortable. I really like both science and engineering. I think the skills from my scientific background really help in building and testing instruments for other scientists.

When I started college, I didn’t really understand the difference between science and engineering. When I came to Goddard, I learned the important difference between these two different roles. The scientist asks: “What do I want to measure?” The engineer asks, “How can I build an instrument to measure that?” By combining the two disciplines, you get an instrument that measures something in space!

We work best when we are interdisciplinary, when scientists think like engineers and engineers think like scientists, when we can understand where each other is coming from. My passion is trying to return Goddard to my original thinking, that both disciplines should fully understand the goals of science and engineering.

As a mentor, how do you encourage your people to be interdisciplinary?

I encourage my students to think about their abilities with an open mind and an open imagination. Sometimes people can pigeonhole themselves into their abilities and think they can only do a specific job. With the right mentorship and the right view of what Goddard can do and the gaps that exist, we can fill them with different skill sets.

Many times, young scientists and engineers tell themselves that they can’t do something because they lack training or education. But in practice, what you really need are creative thinkers, creative problem solvers; Your experience doesn’t matter. You must believe in your own potential. I try to show my students that I believe in them and their potential to get out of their comfort zone. I tell them to strive to evolve. Again, you make progress by being uncomfortable.

Goddard has the best minds in science and engineering. Everyone is always learning from his colleagues. Likewise, our apprentices have a lot to offer. Younger people face problems with a new perspective. Diverse perspectives always help to provide new ideas.

What is Goddard’s biggest challenge for new scientists and engineers?

When you’re at a university, you don’t always have a big budget, but you are unlimited as to the size or power of the instrument you want to build. When sending an instrument to space, the engineering challenges are to make it small, light, and energy efficient.

This is one of the most difficult changes when leaving a university and joining Goddard. This is an adjustment that anyone new to the space needs to think about and make.

What have you been most proud of in your career?

I’m proud of what I’ve built for the space, but I’m more proud of the people I’ve positively impacted along the way. I truly believe it is important to learn lessons from those who came before me and I am very grateful to them. I also want to help teach the next ones. We prepare lessons learned after each mission. I firmly believe that it is important to pass them on to the next generation.

In addition to technical information, I focus a lot on people skills. To build a good team culture, you must listen to and respect all voices on your team. I hope to convey to you the importance of teamwork and also having fun while we do our important and difficult work.

How does being comfortable being uncomfortable motivate you?

I have been attracted to many flight missions and technological developments that are really challenging. That’s what Goddard does best. It’s amazing to do science on other planets! Each planet has its own unique challenges.

I started working on ExoMars, ESA’s Mars rover. I learned everything about Mars and what makes it difficult to do science on Mars.

Then I worked on the Dragonfly proposal, which is a flying drone that will explore Saturn’s moon Titan. I had to learn why Titan is difficult.

I have now finished building and launching a complete satellite to observe the Earth, which included performing all the necessary testing to make sure it will work in orbit.

Engineering instruments for different locations in the solar system require a whole new set of engineering solutions. That’s a lot of fun, it allows me to be very creative. There are very few tried and true methods for some of these environments.

At Goddard, I am constantly challenged, which constantly makes me uncomfortable, but that’s what I like. At first it is intimidating. So it’s exciting!

Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

Why is working at Goddard like solving a puzzle?

At Goddard we work with some of the smartest people around. We are open to exchanging ideas and finding solutions together.

When working on flight missions at Goddard, we work in teams that are inherently interdisciplinary. When problems arise, it’s not always easy to figure out what went wrong or how to fix it. Some of my most exhilarating professional moments have been when things don’t go as planned and I feel like a detective trying to figure out what exactly went wrong and how to fix it. That’s where I’ve seen some of Goddard’s best work.

Solving problems is like looking at 850 pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle that needs to be put together. You’ll never get all the pieces, but you’ll have a pretty good idea of ​​the big picture. At first it frustrates me, but I love it. It’s very satisfying when your team solves the puzzle.

Why are education and outreach so important to you?

Being a good scientist means that part of your job is to communicate to the public what you are studying, why it is important, and what you have discovered. As a public official, I am paid by the public to do this work, so I feel extremely responsible for bringing NASA’s mission to the public.

I have done public education and outreach with people of all ages. I really enjoy doing Mars Rover activities with preschoolers. Three- and four-year-olds helped me design the next Mars rover. Honestly, his ideas had great potential. I told them it was cold on Mars, so some kids put a blanket over the Rover model, which is almost exactly what we do. They were so excited to find out that their solution actually works in space!

People respond to knowing they can be a part of what we do. The public is very excited about what we do and wants to know more. I am inspired by your curiosity. His enthusiasm is contagious. They revitalize joy in what we do and why we do what we do. I truly consider being a NASA ambassador to the public a privilege, not a responsibility.

What do you do for fun?

I really like escape rooms; They involve all kinds of puzzles. I love the challenge of trying to figure something out under pressure. I play acoustic guitar and ukulele. We have a family band, but we only play at home. I also like to travel and learn new languages. I am a total foodie and I really enjoy the new creations made by my husband.

Who would you like to thank for encouraging you?

I absolutely appreciate my family, especially my husband and my son. Many of the missions we undertake at Goddard sometimes require a lot of personal sacrifice. Our missions often require long hours and extreme attention and concentration. We do it because we truly believe in and are inspired by Goddard’s mission. We feel driven to build things and send them into space. That requires dedication not only from the people who work at Goddard, but also from their families. Your endless support means a lot to me.

What is your “six-word memory”? A six-word memoir describes something in just six words.

Always learning, giving back, being challenged.

By Elizabeth Jarrell
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Conversations with Goddard is a collection of question-and-answer profiles that highlight the breadth and depth of the talented and diverse workforce at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The Conversations have been published on average twice a month since May 2011. Read previous editions at Goddard’s “Our People” Web Page.


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