Meet NASA Engineer Overseeing NASA’s First Asteroid Return Mission

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Estelle Church

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Estelle Church. Credit: Courtesy Estelle Church

Name: Estelle Church

Title: Systems Engineer and OSIRIS-REx Deputy TAG Phase Lead at Lockheed Martin

Education: B.A. Physics and Astrophysics at University of Colorado Boulder and an MBA from CU Boulder

Superpower Skill: Perseverance

Today (October 20, 2020) Estelle Church will send out the commands advising NASA’s objective to touch asteroid Bennu, ending up being NASA’s very first objective to gather a sample of product from an asteroid’s surface area. Church has actually been preparing this minute for the previous 5 years, thinking of all the important things that might end the Touch-And-Go (TAG) objective.

Church’s task is to keep the spacecraft safe. She has to believe and prepare for what might fail as she develops the series of commands for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. 

OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Extending Sampling Arm

This artist’s conception reveals the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft extending its tasting arm as it relocates to reach the asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/GSFC

“We have done so much extra work to make sure that if anything goes unplanned, we have a way to recover the mission,” stated Church. “If you miss a maneuver or something unexpected happens, you can end up behind the asteroid, or put the spacecraft on a collision course with Bennu.”

OSIRIS-REx made history when it started orbiting asteroid Bennu, the tiniest item ever orbited by a spacecraft. For more than 2 years, the spacecraft circled around about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from its center, where the gravity force is just five-millionths of Earth’s gravity—hardly adequate gravity to keep a spacecraft in orbit. 

“There is no handbook on how to fly a spacecraft around an asteroid,” stated Church. “I enjoy that it is not easy. The challenges have been fun to work through, and there’s nothing that this team hasn’t been able to do.”

Asteroid Bennu

This is a mosaic picture of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Prior to dealing with asteroids, Church was a laser jock. She developed and constructed lasers to determine range and variety for a business that Lockheed Martin gotten. After dealing with lasers for 6 years, she ended up being a systems engineer in the Mission Support Area of Lockheed Martin. Currently, she collaborates operations for TAG, collecting inputs from all OSIRIS-REx’s subsystems, consisting of thermal, power, telecoms, propulsion, fault security, and satellite control.

ORISIS-REx’s main navigation system was to utilize laser variety measurements to assist the spacecraft. The rough surface required the OSIRIS-REx objective group to change to a backup navigation system called Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) that Lockheed Martin established, simply in-case. NFT depends on 3-D images of the asteroid for navigation.

“When we first saw Bennu, we were surprised by its unexpected rugged terrain,” stated Church. “We had to redesign all of TAG due to this rocky space rock!”

Church constantly mastered school without truly attempting, however likes an obstacle. That is why she learnt physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

“When I realized how hard physics was and that I had to apply myself to succeed, I was hooked,” she stated.

Even though she was proficient at science and mathematics, her real enthusiasm was theater. One of her preferred efficiencies was ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ for which they changed the theatre into a theatre in the round.

“That was such a different concept than I was used to performing on a traditional stage,” stated Church. “Each day before rehearsal, we did 30 minutes of Tai-Chi to calm our minds and find focus within our characters.” 

Church likewise sings and plays the piano, carrying out in numerous musicals, singing in choirs, and even studied classical piano with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She finished from high school as an honor Thespian from the Cairo American College in Egypt. 

During her very first year in college, as a basic significant, she had the ability to take a number of theater classes.  However, when she fell under physics and after that astrophysics, she no longer had time for the theater. 

Estelle Church Family

Estelle Church’s household took a trip a lot. Here she commemorates high school graduation in front of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt. Credit: Courtesy Estelle Church

Church matured all over the world since her dad’s task in the oil market needed her household to move regularly. She has actually resided in Spain, Louisiana, Qatar, Egypt, and Colorado. Her high school graduation occurred in front of the Giza pyramids and Sphinx. She liked experiencing the various cultures.

Church likewise likes to trek. She has actually treked 49 out 58 of Colorado’s “fourteeners,” or mountain peaks of a minimum of 14,000 feet. Sunlight Peak is her favorite.

“It has everything,” stated Church. “The hike in is epic; where you camp is epic, there is the wildlife. There are so many goats around. The topography of the area is stunning. It looks like the Alps.”

Last summertime, Church was thrilled and anxious to trek Sunlight Peak with her partner. Most individuals ride the train to reach the start of the walking.  Unfortunately, Church and her partner were not able to get a ticket.  They treked 16 miles over 2 days to reach Chicago Basin, which is surrounded by 4 fourteeners.

“There is a lot of climbing, yet it’s not super technical,” stated Church. “You technically don’t need ropes. But if you fall, you will die. There are huge boulders stacked up with a 3000-foot drop on either side at the very top, called the summit block. It’s a gorgeous peak and fun climb.” 

Church is likewise thrilled and anxious about TAG.  Based on the success of practice sessions and flying the spacecraft within 40 meters of Bennu’s surface area, she’s enthusiastic that OSIRIS-REx will touch the asteroid on the very first effort. She is more unpredictable about just how much product the spacecraft will gather, provided the asteroid’s rough surface. 

“I know we’ve done everything possible to prepare for TAG, and we are ready,” stated Church.



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