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  Bruce Barraclough  

Bruce Barraclough
Monitors Development Leader

View Bruce's Resume


The following interview occurred June 25, 2002, between Genesis Mission Monitors Development Leader Bruce Barraclough and Senior Consultant Jacinta Behne, Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

J.B. You work as the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) monitors development leader on the Genesis mission. What does this job title mean?

B.B. This really isn't a formal job title. It just indicates that I was in charge of the development of the Genesis Electron Monitor (GEM) and Genesis Ion Monitor (GIM) for the Genesis mission. During the proposal phase, I worked on all aspects of the conceptual science payload for the mission (i.e. the GEM and GIM, the Concentrator, and the "Wind" software for autonomous payload control). Once we were selected for flight, I took responsibility for the design, development, fabrication, testing, and flight operation of the Monitors, and I was also charged with leading development of the WIND flight software and for planning/coordinating the flight operation of the science payload with the rest of the project. All of this work required the coordinated efforts of a large team and I was merely the frontman for the team.

J.B. Your work centers on the design of the spacecraft monitors for gathering science information. Do you consider yourself to be an engineer or a scientist?

B.B. I actually serve in a role that somewhat bridges the two disciplines. We defined the science that had to be accomplished and then had to translate this into hardware with which we could accomplish the science goals. For Genesis and a number of other missions, I have to say that the majority of my duties are more engineering-related but I certainly perform a number of scientific functions also. I am mostly involved with the design and production of instrumentation, as opposed to data-analysis and theory, which are the other major functional elements in my group, and so I don't do as much science or publish as much as some of the other members of my team.

J.B. What is the significance of the onboard monitors on the Genesis spacecraft? How will they serve to provide new science understanding?

B.B. Genesis is somewhat of a different mission for me in that the Monitors do not provide primary science data. In fact, the main science phase of the mission doesn't really begin until after the solar wind samples have returned to Earth and the Monitors have burned up with the spacecraft over the Pacific Ocean. For this mission, the Monitors mainly serve as one of many spacecraft subsystems that support the execution of the main science objectives. For a typical space physics mission (Genesis is more of a planetary mission), the ion and electron plasma spectrometers typically provide some of the most fundamental science measurements that the mission is designed around, but for Genesis, the spectrometers were included primarily to enable the collection of the solar wind samples. This subsidiary role of the Monitors was a first for me and for LANL. That being said, we do hope to gain much science understanding from the Monitor data but this is more a bonus than a requirement. One of the main things we hope to accomplish is to use our data with that from three other spacecraft located at L1 to obtain a more global view of various aspects of solar wind physics that is not possible with typical, single-point measurements.

J.B. Does your work on Genesis spacecraft instrumentation offer you the opportunity to work with other Genesis mission teams? If so, how?

B.B. Luckily, I get the chance to work with many of the other mission teams and the teams I get to work with change as the mission progresses. For instance, during the prelaunch phase of the mission, I had to work with the Attitude Control; Systems; Flight Software; Thermal/Magnetic/Electrostatic; Fault Protection; Payload Accommodation; Assembly, Test, Launch Operations (ATLO); Mission Assurance and other teams to get everything ready for flight. Subsequent to Launch, I have had the chance to work more closely with the Navigation, Flight Ops, Command and Sequencing and other teams to ensure that the mission is executed correctly. It is fascinating to me to get to work with all of these other teams that do jobs considerably different from my own and get a peek into the expertise and talent that exists in these various functional elements of the overall Genesis team. It is very instructional to see how these elements do their jobs, what their concerns and headaches are, and also to try and educate them about the Science Payload concerns and how we try to accomplish our jobs.

J.B. Do you have other responsibilities at LANL? If so, what are they?

B.B. Genesis is only one of many responsibilities that I have at LANL. This has good and bad points in that I luckily get to work on many exciting and difficult projects but I never have the luxury of putting really concentrated effort and thought into any single project for very long. However, I do typically get to stick with a mission at some level of effort from the proposal phase all the way through to the publication of the final mission science papers in contrast to many of the other teams that do a specific job for the mission (e.g., design the power system for the spacecraft) and then have to rotate off to another project and are unable to closely follow the progress of a particular mission. I am simultaneously working on a number of other projects including Ulysses, Cassini, Lunar Prospector, and several Department of Energy/Department of Defense (DOE/DOD) missions. In addition, we are all constantly involved in new proposal activities, new hardware technology development for future use, strategic planning exercises, mission development activities, scientific review of publications and proposals, presenting talks and writing papers, etc. I am also the supervisor for our team of very talented LANL technicians and am responsible for insuring that our large number of labs are up-to-date and functioning optimally.

J.B. What have you found to be the most fascinating thing about the Genesis mission?

B.B. The most fascinating aspect of the Genesis mission to me is the science that will be derived from the returned samples. When you think about it, it is quite remarkable that we propose to analyze a very few atoms that are implanted in the returned sample materials, determine what the present composition of the outer layers of the sun is, and use this information to help us understand the condensation of the early solar nebula into the planets, comets, asteroids, etc., 4.5 billion years ago. This is so long ago and far away that it always amazes me that anything at all can be learned about these times and the subsequent evolution of the wide range of solar system bodies, and yet we can learn many things in a surprising amount of detail. Truly remarkable if you consider it!

J.B. What do you see as the riskiest part of the Genesis mission?

B.B. I don't see any part of the mission as being considerably more risky than another as we worked very hard for a number of years to minimize as much of the mission risk as we possibly could and we worked hardest of all on the (initially) riskiest parts so that there wouldn't be a significant probability of them coming back to bite us. All space work is risky and the better, faster, cheaper philosophy under which the Genesis mission was implemented was perhaps riskier than some other missions because of the faster and cheaper parts. However, I think the success of the mission to date shows that all the talented people who worked on the mission identified all the mission components with a significant risk and figured out a way to ensure their success.

J.B. What is your work history in space science? Can you share your involvement in some past NASA missions with us? How did that work lead to your work on Genesis?

B.B. I've only been in the space business since 1987, but in that time I have had the privilege of being involved to a greater or lesser extent in quite of number of missions that have been flown (not to mention the large number of proposed missions that were never selected for flight)! Some of these missions were NASA funded (e.g., Cassini, Ulysses, Lunar Prospector, Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), Genesis) but a number of others were European Space Agency (ESA), DoD and/or DOE funded, e.g. Defense Support Program (DSP), Combined Release and Radiation Effects Satellite (CRRES), Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System (SABRS). So I have been involved in civilian as well as military space activities over the years. During this time, I learned how to design, fabricate, test and fly various types of plasma, neutral particle, neutron and gamma-ray instrumentation, as this is what my Group at LANL specializes in. Marcia Neugebauer knew of LANL's expertise in these types of instrumentation and she recommended early on that the Genesis team contact us during the early phases of the proposal development to see if we would be interested in providing the Monitors, the Concentrator, and the software that would control these items. This is basically how I came to be involved in Genesis.

J.B. Can you capture an image of your everyday work life for us?

B.B. I generally come in between 7:00 and 7:30, fire up my computer, check my e-mail (which, given the volume, has become more of a curse than a blessing), check my calendar for the day, surf the Web a bit to see what the current space weather is, check any new data from our various spacecraft to see that all is well, and then begin working on individual projects that need attention. Generally, I get very little concentrated time to devote to any particular activity as there are always fires to put out, telecons, local meetings, talks to attend, visitors to host, demands from management for various items, etc. Eventually, I find time to check in with our technicians and see that things are going well in the labs. I eat lunch at my desk and then try to get back to project work. Generally, I find a little more time in the afternoon to look at data, write up reports, work on new proposals, etc. I usually head home around 6:00 and then do it all over again the next day. During some periods, it seems like I have to go on travel much more than during other periods, and then of course, my day is considerably different but the work at the office always manages to pile up while I am gone and demands attention when I return. When we happen to be heavily in the hardware fabrication and testing phase of a given mission all of this routine goes out the window. I will spend most of the day in the shops or the lab while all the other work piles up, sometimes for many weeks at a time. During such a period, most of my normal duties have to be put aside while I tend to the hardware, which tends to demand priority over everything else.

J.B. How did your educational background prepare you for this job?

B.B. It didn't except in a general way. My undergraduate and graduate training was in chemistry, geology, oceanography, and geochemistry. If I had known that I was going to spend a number of years doing space and planetary physics, I would certainly have pursued a different course of training and taken a lot more physics, math and engineering classes. As it is, I had to learn a lot on the job, and there are still so many areas I am not very smart about. Fortunately, I work with a great team of real experts and can count on them to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

J.B. How does someone prepare to be a spacecraft monitors team leader? Is there college preparatory work that serves to help in achieving this role?

B.B. I don't think there is anything specific that I could recommend. A person should certainly get a good basic grounding in science and technology. It would be very helpful to do graduate or postdoctoral studies in an environment where spaceflight hardware is actually being produced and flown, as much of what a person needs to know in this business is learned by experience rather than in the classroom.

J.B. What career path led you to your current scope of work at LANL?

B.B. A circuitous one. I started working at LANL in 1978 in the area of analytical chemistry and from there moved into organic geochemistry and fossil fuel work. The Lab sent me off to graduate school at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where I pursued studies in geo- and cosmochemistry and I pursued this area for a short time after I returned to LANL. In 1986, I noticed an internal job opening in the Space and Atmospheric Sciences Group, which I knew to be a very high-powered bunch and one that I would like to be associated with, even though I had no particular expertise in this area. I applied for the position and was accepted, and so began my career in the space sciences, a move I have never regretted.

J.B. Have there been surprises in your education and career history?

B.B. That I am in the sciences at all is a bit of a surprise. When I graduated from high school I had no particular idea of what I would like to pursue in college. Just before freshman registration, I received a letter from the Chemistry Dept. telling me that if I would sign up for a special first year series of chemistry classes, I could skip several other courses that were required for graduation and earn extra graduation credits. This sounded like a good deal to me so I signed up for Chemistry. I became interested in the subject, and my education proceeded from there. If that unexpected letter had never arrived in the mail, I don't really know what sort of education I would have pursued.

J.B. What is your family life like? What leisure time activities do you do for fun?

B.B. I have a wife and two boys, ages 13 and 14. In my job, a person could be on travel a great deal of the time and I have to consciously try and minimize my travel so that I can spend time with my family. My hours are fortunately very flexible so it is possible for me to attend school functions during the day, help out if someone is sick, watch kids if my wife is out of town, etc. We always make it a point to eat dinner together in the evening and then I'll help with homework, work/read a little, and then try to unwind for a couple of hours before going to bed and then doing it all over again. As for leisure activities, we always try and do some fun things like travel and camping when the kids have summer vacation. This year, we're all going to Greece for a month and a couple of years ago we went to Costa Rica. In addition, I am a soccer referee for kids' games from very young through high school level and I have a lot of involvement with this activity in the Spring and Fall. We also have to go around the region to all the various soccer games and tournaments one of my sons is involved with. I am a competitive shooter and I am also a private pilot, but I haven't had the chance (or money!) to go flying much in the past year.

J.B. What advice can you offer to young scientists and engineers?

B.B. Get into some area of endeavor that personally excites you, even if it isn't one where you're already an expert. If you initially need a mentor, find a first-rate one and establish a good working relationship with that person. Develop real expertise in one to several key areas but also develop a more than superficial knowledge of many other areas that are useful in your field. Develop lots of contacts and don't be hesitant to exploit them. Don't be afraid to move into new areas and expand your experience.

J.B. Are there keys to success that you would like to share?

B.B. This question assumes that I am a success and have some secrets to share! In my business, I have found that building or becoming a member of a really good team is certainly one of the keys to success. Our work is much too complicated and specialized for any one person to be able to do everything by themself. You need a team to accomplish your work and you are very dependent on your team for your success (or failure). If you take on a job, make sure it is done right and not in some half-baked manner. Take on progressively more difficult assignments. Don't hesitate to ask for help or instruction if you need it. Make as many contacts as you can in as wide a range of areas as possible. Put in some time on office and scientific politics and on service assignments (award committees, review panels, publication review, etc.). Publish as much as you can and present your ideas at appropriate meetings. These are some of the keys that I have observed help people succeed in what they're doing.

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Curator: Aimee Meyer
Updated: November 2009

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