Interview with Spacecraft Team Chief, Allan Cheuvront
What is your role on the mission?
I ensure we get reliable information (downlink) from the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network (DSN) and are able to send commands (uplink). We get telemetry, files, pictures and the like from our radio amplifier that puts out the similar energy to a refrigerator light (15 watts)! The DSN has huge dish antennas (34 and 70 meters) that capture the spacecraft’s weak signal over great distances. On the uplink side, although the DSN is able to transmit a large signal from Earth, it still requires a very specialized onboard receiver to decode the commands.
Do you work long hours?
Occasionally during critical events, we have to work some odd hours since events in the heavens don’t know our local time. Leading up to the Stardust Earth Gravity Assists, Encounter and Earth Return, we needed to make sure the spacecraft was performing per the plan. As Stardust-NExT approaches Tempel 1, the team will support the spacecraft monitoring and commanding with shift work as needed.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up in the 1960’s, I was passionate about the rapid evolution of the space program on the way to the Moon landing in 1969. I watched each mission and knew I wanted to be involved in some way. Later as a teen, I became involved in amateur radio and continued to watch the robotic probes as Viking landed on Mars in 1976. In my current position, I’m fortunate to combine these interests in my work and closely follow the exploration of space.
Who inspired you growing up?
I was always impressed by astronauts, who risked their lives on uncertain missions for a greater purpose. As a teen, I also had wonderful mentors who helped me understand and develop the practical aspects of my radio hobby.
Is this the only mission you’ve worked on?
I’ve been involved in spacecraft development and operations for about 14 years and have seen wonderful successes and crushing failures. I started working with the Mars 1998 Orbiter and Lander, which were both lost and a considerable emotional setback. Since that time, I’ve been involved in Stardust, Mars Odyssey, Genesis, Spitzer Space Telescope, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Phoenix Mars Lander.