For the last six years and two months, I have had the good fortune to support NASA’s human space activities at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, whilst in the employ of two good companies: ASI and Schafer. In my technical writing roles I have written anything from conference papers on the J-2X engine to proposals for a small orbital debris-detecting satellite to responses to congressional inquiries about the Ares launch vehicles to brochures for an international environmental monitoring program. It’s been a blast, and exactly the type of work I went to grad school to do.
And yet…and yet…over the past six years I’ve found other parts of the space biz that attracted me as I’ve learned more. Not too surprisingly, my big-picture brain likes to work on the systems of things, whether it’s the space environment, a network of satellites, an entire vehicle, or the “architecture” of which a vehicle is a part. I ask a lot of “why?” questions, along with “how does that work?” and “how do those parts/elements/vehicles work together?” I’m looking at the relationships of things in space because I’m a science fiction writer at heart.
In the past three or four years, whenever I found myself touching a project or product that dealt with big-picture analysis, I’d always find someone from one particular small company in the middle of it. Always bright folks but in need of a writer, I would talk with them about what they were doing, and their work always interested me, as they touched not just NASA but also “New Space” and Department of Defense customers.
This year, my interests and professional circumstances prodded me to seek a position with this group, so at the beginning of October, I will be taking a position at that company as Chief of Communications. The company is called Zero Point Frontiers (ZPF), and it is located here in Huntsville, Alabama. These folks do a lot of that sort of thinking–systems engineering with a twist.
Systems engineering is the art of developing and understanding complex systems and their interactions. As I understand their approach, they examine a system–anything that deserves the name, from a piece of hardware or software to a launch vehicle or space exploration architecture–and break it down to its essentials: the “zero point,” and then work outward from there to define a system that works as it is supposed to.
Lots of strategy, lots of big-picture thinking, lots of opportunities to learn and do different things and maybe even shape them. Heady stuff.
Oh, one thing I have to share, because it tickled me a bit: my offer letter came with a red envelope and a blue envelope. In the movie The Matrix, Lawrence Fishburne’s character, “Morpheus,” offers Keanu Reaves’ “Neo” a blue or red pill, which will propel him to one reality or another. Take the blue pill and Neo remains in a safe, predictable universe (the Matrix); take the red pill, and he will leave the Matrix, discovering that reality is something rather different. I returned my offer in the red envelope, accepting the position. Now I’ll just see how different life is outside the usual “Matrix” of a NASA contractor.
Interesting times ahead.