Workin' for a Livin'

There’s a new face in Dryden’s Employee Assistance Program office – a furry one. EAP manager Kathleen Christian has begun introducing a standard poodle named Ella into her work counseling employees and their families, and decided to share the experience in a blog. Through Ella’s perspective and her own, in coming weeks Dr. Christian will share the story of Ella the Therapy Dog’s arrival, training and impact at the center.

The use of animals in therapy is a growing practice. Wide-ranging clinical studies of its effectiveness have verified significant and positive results. Trained therapy animals like Ella are turning up in hospitals, nursing homes, counseling centers and elsewhere – anyplace they can offer human colleagues the comfort of a friendly nuzzle and some warm companionship. Follow Ella’s story here and help welcome her to Dryden!


10/18/10 – No breakfast this morning. I hope there isn’t going to be another bath. She brushed me last night and said tomorrow we go to work. What is this place? She says this is Dryden Flight Research Center and She is going to explain more, later. It looks huge and there aren’t many trees and there is no grass anywhere. It smells like dried plants and something else – She says it is jet fuel. This is work? Where will I run with Jack? We go inside a big building with strange glass doors. We walk down a long hallway into a room that smells like Her. She puts a big blanket down on the floor with some of my toys. She brought a bowl with water and gives me breakfast. At least I’m not hungry any more. We go outside and walk past very, very big buildings. She says this one is the hangar. Some day, She says, I will run and play in there. She says I will make the people happy. We walk across more concrete than I have ever seen, and go behind a building. She says this is where I can go for a private “bio break.” Lots of smells – I can’t see any animals except birds, but I can smell cat, rabbit, squirrel, and even something that smells like a wild dog. Where are the animals that belong to these smells?


I follow her up more stairs than I have ever seen. This is very hard. They are steep. She tells me I am a good girl. We go to a large room with more people than I have ever seen, and they are sitting very close together. This is confusing. The people make me worried.  I sit next to Her. Some people come up and hold up the back of their hand in front of my face. There is no food there. I don’t know what I am supposed to do with their hands. Some people try to grab me after they show me their hand. They talk loud and move their face very close to me and stare at my eyes. I feel afraid and I don’t know what to do, but I try not to move. She talks to them. She talks to me in a calm voice then the people go away. I lay down on the floor and go to sleep. It’s better that way.


10/20/10 – She talks to people when they come into our office. I want to lay down behind Her desk, on my bed that she put there for me. Instead, She puts the leash on me and brings me around to sit between Her and the people. I lie down and go to sleep. Some of them talk to me, some of them don’t.


A man comes to the office and sits on the couch. He talks softly to me and I sit closer to him. Then he sits on the floor and I lay down next to him. This is good. She gives him a dog cookie, and he gives it to me.


A lady comes in and sits down. She doesn’t talk to me. Something about her is different and I get up and sit next to her leg. I like leaning on her, and she lets me.


10/22/10 – She takes me outside in front of the hangar. Some very big men walk toward us, and say, “Hey, is she the mascot?” They are happy, and want to talk about me and ask Her questions.


On the other side of the hangar, we see another man. She says he is an engineer. He comes over and tells Her that he doesn’t own dogs and doesn’t like them much. He talks to Her and ignores me. After a few minutes, he gets low to make his face level with mine. He doesn’t grab me or get too close, so I sit next to Her, waiting. Then he touches me and it feels okay. I lie down, even though the concrete is very cold. He lies down next to me! Then when he stands up and walks away, I feel like something is different. She seems calm, and I feel proud.


When we go back to the office, a man and a woman come and sit down. The man is crying. The woman is very, very uncomfortable. I want to be next to the woman, so I get up and sniff her. I sit with her and she puts her hand softly on my head. I lie down there and sleep. When I wake up, they are leaving.


Kathy’s note: Ella’s first week at work has been exciting and surprising. Although I expected people to react to her in a positive way, I never guessed they would react so strongly. On Tuesday and Thursday when Ella stayed home, each person I would see in the hallway would ask where she was. Everyone knows her name, even people I have never spoken to. My co-worker, Monique, is peppered by questions about her from people all across the center.


I am surprised by how overwhelmed Ella has been and how awkward many employees have acted around her. Employees find it difficult to slow down in their approach and I have had to be very assertive in order to help them – and her – learn to interact. In my office, Ella reacts to some people and sleeps through the hour with most. It remains to be seen whether she will be able to adapt effectively to this environment. I know that, for both of us, challenges lie ahead.

Gray Creech blogs from NASA's Green Aviation Summit

(Editor's Note – NASA'sAeronautics Research Mission Directorate is holding a two-day Green AviationSummit conference Sept. 8-9 at NASA's Ames Research Center in NorthernCalifornia. Gray Creech of NASA Dryden Flight Research Center's public affairsstaff is attending the summit, and will be periodically blogging on thehighlights of the event as they proceed. His first blog is posted below.)
By Gray Creech
NASA Dryden public affairs
Sept. 8, 2010, 8:15 a.m. PDT

Welcome to the 2010 NASA Aeronautics Research Mission
Directorate’s Green Aviation Summit, a proverbial peek-behind-the-
curtain for a look at the future of green aviation!

We’re “summiting” here at NASA’s Ames Research Center in
Mountain View, Calif.,  just a stone’s throw from the southern end of
San Francisco Bay, in the heart  of Silicon Valley. Bear with me as I
get our blog going. I could use a cup ‘o java to help bring coherence
to the conversation…

Let me introduce “green aviation” -- It’s more than “eco-friendly”
flight; it’s a compilation of radical ideas about the next generation of
airplanes making  less noise, producing less harmful emissions, and
achieving better fuel economy. 

Imagine standing at the end of an airport runway as a jetliner swoops
low, and still being able to hear someone next to you whisper. Imagine
these quieter planes being less polluting because of leaner combustion
technologies and cleaner fuels. And imagine these aircraft consuming
fuel in a miserly fashion, due to better aerodynamics and lightweight
composite construction, etc. 

I’ll keep you posted the next two days as the Summit unfolds – after I
get that first cup of coffee! I’ll be back soon…

Rising to the Occasion – Pad Abort 1

I know that there is a perception in the general public about thetraditional government worker who has no incentive or desire to work hard. Ihaven’t found too many of those people working at NASA, and there certainlyaren’t any of them on the Orion Abort Flight Test Project. On an average dayNASA Dryden has 30 to 50 people, stationed at the White Sands Missile Rangein New Mexico, preparing for the big event: the first test launch of theOrion Abort Flight Test system.

Our team is joined by the Flight Test management team from the NASA Johnson
Space Center (Houston, TX), engineers and technicians from the NASA Langley
Research Center (Hampton, VA), support personnel from the NASA White Sands
Test Facility (Las Cruces, NM), safety personnel from the NASA Kennedy Space
Center, and numerous contractors including prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
One of the biggest issues for managers has been trying to decide when to
“throttle back” this incredible team to keep them from overworking
themselves.  Anytime you have a dangerous work environment and high-value
flight hardware, we enforce work-hour limitations designed to keep people
and one-of-a-kind test hardware safe.  It’s always a tough balance between
the can-do attitude of our team and the need to keep everyone safe.
And safety is key, since we are getting close to igniting a half million
pounds of solid rocket thrust that will pull the 31,600-pound Launch Abort
Vehicle (which is comprised of the crew module and the launch abort system)
to an altitude of about one mile. Two other, smaller solid rockets will be
used to steer the test article and then jettison the launch abort system
from the crew module before three enormous parachutes inflate to slow the
crew module to a survivable descent rate prior to landing (see animated
During the past three months our combined test team has been completing
final component installations and integrated system checks.  Just last week,
the team completed a mission rehearsal to verify the functionality of every
element that will be used on launch day: from the crew completing pre-launch
procedures, to chilling the solid rockets to proper temperatures, to full
staffing of the mobile control room, to power-up of every telemetry antenna,
radar and tracking camera, to launch of weather balloons and more. This test
has helped us iron out the details of the day-of-flight checklists in
preparation for the Pad Abort 1 launch.
While it’s impossible to detail all the work that the team has accomplished,
I would like to mention a few people that have risen to the occasion in the
past few weeks to keep this project on track. I wish I had more space,
because I could fill 10 pages with kudos.

– Mary Alice Grossman and Sean Clarke led a marathon session to develop,
implement and test last-minute changes to many of the control room displays
in preparation for critical ground tests.

– Our flight instrumentation team (Dave Dowdell,  Ernie Valdez, Leo Gross,
Joe Hernandez, Phil Hamory, Lynette Jones, Susan Sprague) completed final
checkout of over 700 instrumentation sensors on the test vehicle while
working on the second shift, to avoid impacting integration testing that was
ongoing on the day shift. And they did it ahead of schedule!

– Operations engineer Matt Berry stepped up to provide critical support to
the avionics team while maintaining his current heavy workload, and fellow
ops engineer John Ruhf took on the testing and fit checks of the
late-arriving Launch Abort System Protective Cover so that it would be ready
for the upcoming launch.

– Monte Cook is doing an excellent job leading the incredible avionics team
through a very challenging and dynamic time after their former (legendary)
leader, Paul Aristo, was promoted.  

– Bill Condzella and Jeff King have consistently stepped up to review and
approve complex operations and test procedures to ensure that all safety
requirements are being properly addressed. At times, this has been a
monumental task under tight schedule constraints.

So as we all follow the progress of this on NASA-TV and the NASA website,
let’s not forget the people behind the projects…. I am proud to support an
exceptional team of technicians, mechanics, engineers and many other mission
support staff that are about to write that next chapter in American space
Brent Cobleigh
Director, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

NASA Pilots in Casper, Wyo. – An Awesome Mission to Inspire Kids

(Editor’s Note – NASA Dryden Flight Research Center pilots Mark Pestana and Herman Posada recently flew NASA 7, a modified Beechcraft B-200, to Casper, Wyo., to talk with several hundred students and their teachers about NASA and their careers as research pilots of both manned and remotely operated research aircraft. Posada writes about his experiences on the trip, which was part of NASA’s Summer of Innovation educational outreach program.)

We were told early in July about the trip to Casper. I began to look forward to such an adventure. Anything that involves flying and I am in.

I then received the details of the mission and found out it was an education outreach. I enjoy sharing my experiences with the kids and the public.

Rina Nakano of KCWY-TV, Ch. 13 in Casper, Wyo., does a stand-upreport in front of NASA 7, a Beechcraft B-200 King Air. Nakanointerviewed Dryden pilots Mark Pestana and Herman Posada during theirSummer of Innovation educational outreach visit to a Casper middleschool.  (Photo courtesy Herman Posada)

We assembled all the material for presentations we planned to make and were ready for the flight on July 13. The weather was great, which made the flight even more enjoyable. I had heard that the school we were going to was also tracking our progress on the Internet through one of the flight-tracking Web pages. Awesome!

The mission was getting more exciting as the day progressed. We landed at Casper and were met by a very friendly staff at the fixed-base operation. We drove into town and enjoyed a quick lunch. Soon after, we were navigating through town and found the college where the class was being held. Our hosts helped us set up our displays and equipment, and we noted all the excitement in the room as the kids and staff eagerly awaited our presentation.

The Power Point presentation on what NASA does and demonstrations in the class were incredibly well received. The question and answer session went on for close to an hour. All questions were interesting and well thought out by the class. Of particular interest was how water is consumed in space. The class was intrigued by this simple task. We then broke out into smaller groups to discuss space and aviation topics and gladly signed pictures for the kids. We had brought pins and miniature airplanes and the group was very appreciative.

As the day drew to a close we were invited by the teaching staff to a dinner in town. We gladly accepted and were met at the restaurant by a great group of teachers. We shared stories and experiences as we enjoyed a great meal.

The next morning we promptly got out to the airport to set up for the kids to visit the airplane. We were also told that a media crew might visit. After a short wait, the first school bus showed up with the first group of students. Some of the students had never been in an airplane. It was awesome seeing their reactions to coming inside and going into the cockpit. More questions came up and small discussions ensued on how the airplane works and how we navigate in the air.

It was a great feeling inspiring these kids on something that I enjoy. I recall being their age and aspiring to be a pilot and wondering if I would ever get there. Telling my story to them perhaps energized some of them to follow my footsteps and career.

Eventually the second bus showed up and more students got to see the airplane. The local TV station sent out a reporter and she also got to see the airplane and do an interview with us. It aired that night and was well received. When we had shown all the kids and teachers the airplane we prepared it for what would be an uneventful flight back to Dryden.

What an awesome mission to inspire the kids in Casper, Wyoming!

Herman Posada
Research Pilot, Unmanned Aircraft Systems
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

STS-132: The First Last Flight of Atlantis

From Peter Merlin

On May 14, I sat beside a blue lagoon beneath cloudless skies just three miles from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and felt a growing sense of “launch fever.” It had set in the day before as I stood at the edge of the launch pad – the same from which humans first journeyed to the moon – and watched the Rotating Service Structure roll back to reveal space shuttle Atlantis stacked on its external fuel tank and twin solid-propellant rocket boosters. As I stood there, it occurred to me that river gravel that comprised the roadbed beneath my feet had been crushed by the combined weight of the shuttle stack atop its Mobile Launch Platform and Crawler Transporter, weighing roughly 17 million pounds – the weight of history.

NASA Dryden contract historian/archivist Peter Merlin stands in front of Launch Complex 39A following rollback of the Rotating Service Structure on the evening prior to launch of space shuttle Atlantis for STS-132.

This rare opportunity arose from my work as a contract historian/archivist at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center where I maintain a collection of historical reference material and share Dryden’s accomplishments through various publications, exhibits, and presentations. I was visiting Florida because KSC was selected to host the annual NASA History Division meeting and training event in order to coincide with the launch of shuttle mission STS-132. It was a chance for historians from each of the NASA centers to witness history being made and share in one of the most visible accomplishments of the agency.

With only three remaining missions planned before retirement of the shuttle fleet, STS-132 is the final scheduled flight of Atlantis. Mission commander Ken Ham, however, said his crew jokingly referred it as the “first last flight of Atlantis” because the orbiter will be prepared for a launch-on-need contingency rescue mission should something go wrong with the final scheduled mission, currently slated for November. NASA managers have also discussed the possible addition of another Atlantis mission, STS-135, to fly at end of the shuttle manifest in early- to mid-2011, but this has yet to be approved or funded.

On the morning of the launch, I joined a small crowd of well-wishers to cheer and wave as Ham and his five crewmembers departed the Operations and Checkout Building in their bright orange space suits. “See you in two weeks,” shouted Ham just before boarding the Astrovan, a modified 1983 Airstream Excella motorhome.

Later, by the water’s edge, I sat beside a 10-foot-high digital clock that ticked off the final minutes and seconds to liftoff. Looking around, I saw hundreds of news media representatives, students, and other invited guests, and I knew thousands more waited on the causeway between KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was a marked contrast to when I sat in this same spot nearly 25 years earlier to witness the maiden flight of Atlantis. Since it had been a classified mission for the Department of Defense, guest passes were not issued to the public and even the exact time of liftoff was not announced in advance.

For Atlantis’ swan song, however, NASA made an effort to accommodate as many visitors as possible, including about 150 “tweeters” sending out live electronic updates via Twitter.

During the last few hours of the countdown I met with David Alexander, the Digital Learning Network coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s program at the Aerospace Education Research and Operations, or AERO, Institute in Palmdale, Calif., and a member of the Dryden Education Office. Together, we produced some prelaunch video commentary for possible application to Dryden’s web site or the DLN, an interactive learning program for students and educators that allows students to interact directly with NASA experts, engineers and researchers to gain new appreciation for the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Soon, the final seconds of the countdown were upon us. Two white plumes of steam issued from concrete flame trenches at the base of the launch pad as the shuttle’s three main engines fired, instantly evaporating most of the 300,000 gallons of water that had been dumped in just 10 seconds earlier. The spectacle was oddly silent, at first, because it took a while for the sound to reach the viewing area. A flash of orange signaled the ignition of the boosters, each producing 3.3 million pounds of thrust. Liftoff!

A distant crackling sound quickly built to a pulsing roar as Atlantis thundered toward space on twin pillars of fire. The flames were unbelievably bright and seemed to display a rainbow of colors as the vehicle gracefully rotated, ascending toward orbit while arcing away toward the distant horizon. Within a few minutes the vehicle was out of sight and the winds soon dispersed the clouds of smoke and steam rising from the launch pad.

At Dryden I have had the opportunity to witness more than 20 shuttle landings. They have a special grace and beauty but nothing can rival the awesome power of a launch and the opportunity to see humans journey into the frontier beyond our atmosphere that we have only begun to explore.

Peter Merlin of Tybrin Corp. is a historian at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

Welcome to the Dryden Blog

As center director, let me be the first to welcome you to the Dryden blog site. This is an exciting new Web feature we are embarking on to provide you with additional perspectives on our many projects. 

As an engineer, I find myself in a constant struggle to convey information in a technically accurate manner while at the same time keeping it in terms understandable by non-engineers. On the flip side, I am often troubled with the responsibility of explaining the vagaries of federal government management, planning, and budgeting to an engineering community that expects exact answers. The great thing about a blog is that you have the opportunity to help guide the level of detail being provided.As we share information on our projects, I would like to encourage you to leave comments and tell us what you think! 

Through this blog site, we hope to introduce the human perspective to the technical work we do and the technical considerations inherent in managing complex engineering projects. I am inviting people from throughout the Dryden organization to post updates on their work and share the challenges and accomplishments they face in their daily activities. Over time, I expect that topics covered in this forum will reflect the diversity of our workforce both in terms of expertise and the projects we support. 

If there is a particular topic or item you would like to learn more about, leave us a comment and we will do our best to post the information.  Thank you for taking time to visit the Dryden Blog. 

David McBride


NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

NASA Aids in Capturing Video of Historic X-51 Flight


Every now and then, due to the unique capabilities of our aircraft and our personnel, NASA gets called upon to assist the Air Force in one of its missions. In this instance we were asked to help by providing video documentation and airborne safety chase for a high-altitude first release of the X-51 hypersonic test vehicle. You can read more about this test flight on the Edwards Air Force Base Web site here: .


Normally, the Air Force would use its own chase F-16 aircraft. However, launch conditions were too slow for an F-16 at the planned altitude of 50,000 feet. NASA Dryden operates a fleet of four chase and support F/A-18 aircraft, and the high altitude and slow speed is something our aircraft could handle. NASA Dryden also has a unique cadre of truly talented airborne videographers and photographers. Taking videos and pictures requires a skill only learned through years of experience and this is routinely demonstrated in the NASA photo/video team’s superb products.


For this mission we conducted numerous briefings and several dress rehearsals so all participants, both in the air and on the ground, would be ready for their roles. The flight included the U.S. Air Force B-52, with the test vehicle tucked under the port wing and inboard of the engines, and two NASA F/A-18s. One F/A-18 was a single-seat aircraft with a primary mission of safety chase. It was there to allow the pilot to watch the takeoff and climb to altitude, ensuring the vehicle remained intact with no leaks or apparent anomalies in condition. The second F/A-18, a 2-seater I was flying, had the videographer in the aft seat. Our mission was to capture the X-51 as it separated from the B-52 and the rocket booster ignited, accelerating it into the record books. We took off about 15 minutes after the bomber and chase. We climbed to altitude in trail but were flying faster so as to catch them en route. We needed to be in position close to the B-52’s left wing when the flight reached the test area off the California coast. 


After a trial run down the launch path, the flight circled back to point west again. This time the X-51 launch system was readied and clearance was received. The range was “green,” meaning the X-51 could be safely released.


As we got close to the desired launch point the appropriate calls were made:  “30 seconds to release,” then “10 seconds,” followed by a tense delay until the hypersonic aircraft dropped free of the bomber. 


In the video chase F/A-18, I was striving to be in exactly the right position, not too close but never too far away. At this high altitude the aircraft is not nearly as responsive as it would be down lower. Also, we were flying much slower for this launch, making the flight controls even more sluggish. One false flight control or throttle input, and we could easily fall way below or way behind the B-52 and then be unable to catch it in time to capture the video. The camera operator needed a clear view of the release but also needed to have it in sight as it dropped away before the rocket motor ignited. The X-51 was going to drop up to 1,000 feet below the B-52, so we had to be ready to go lower with it. This sequence all went without a single hitch and the X-51 booster rocket motor ignited in a beautiful, sharp plume. The vehicle rapidly accelerated away before climbing smoothly into the planned trajectory. 


It was visually as flawless a launch as I have ever witnessed and truly an awesome sight. After the X-51 disappeared from view, which took about 45 seconds after being dropped from the bomber, we turned toward home. Now we could see the white contrail the X-51 had left in the sky. It was no longer arrow-straight, but wavy and kinked by the high-altitude winds. The flight home would take another 25 minutes, but it was a relaxing 25 minutes borne by the exhilaration of success.


To view the amazing video, follow this link.


The Air Force Research Lab’s X-51 project office said they were absolutely thrilled by NASA’s “superb safety and video chase support.”  It was a privilege to participate with the team to help capture this video and make it available to a global audience. 


Dick Ewers

NASA Research Test Pilot