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Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft

John Diehl

John Diehl

Ground Systems Software Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

John Diehl

What's the coolest thing about EPOXI?
Having just completed the EPOCh portion of our mission, it is unbelievable how much information the science team can get from the data gathered.

What I find most exciting about my job is watching the scientists get excited about their work.

What is your job on the EPOXI mission?
My name is John Diehl. I am a ground systems software engineer specialist at JPL. For EPOXI, I support ground activities performed by the EPOXI science team.

Ken Klaasen gets instructions from the science team for the kinds of science observation they desire. He translates these instructions into science instrument commands. Then Ken and I apply a variety of procedures/processes to assure the instrument commands will not affect the instrument health and safety and they will obtain the data desired by the science team. Ken distributes these commands to the science team for review. After the science team review is complete, we deliver the commands to the spacecraft team. The spacecraft team converts our science instrument commands into a spacecraft sequence and runs the sequence on a spacecraft simulator. Ken and I apply another set of procedures/processes to verify the simulator output is consistent with our expectation. Any discrepancies are resolved before we proceed to upload the sequence. During and after the sequence execution on the spacecraft Ken and I monitor the sequence execution from the EPOXI Mission Support Areas at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. During this time we verify all the desired data products are transmitted from the spacecraft. Sometimes when products are missed, we request additional playbacks from the spacecraft.

What is your everyday work life like?
Mostly I wait to receive instructions from the science team. Once these are received I swing into actions as described above. The biggest task for me is assisting Ken in validating the spacecraft simulator outputs.

What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the EPOXI mission?
The science team is constantly trying to squeeze as much high value science data from each observation as possible. Sometimes the negotiation of what observation to take can put pressure on me to perform my tasks in an expedited fashion. Sometimes the pressure is high. We normally have only a few days to perform our validation of the simulator output.

How did you end up in Engineering?
Military service interrupted my path to my doctorate and college teaching. In the military, I ended up learning software. After 15 years as a software professional, I ended up coming to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There I found a niche helping scientists reach for the stars.

What do you do in your spare time?
I am now an avid practitioner of yoga. In the past I was an avid golfer.

Who in your life inspired you?
In college, I was a mathematics instructor at Penn State. I had a wonderful advisor who was always challenging me to exceed my own limits. I can remember visiting him in his office and he looked into his desk and gave me the problem leading me to get my Masters in Mathematics.

Similar to my current situation, I was always inspired by working with people whom I perceived as better than me in some area.

What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
Working on one more space mission. There is nothing more rewarding to me than helping others reach their goals. This will always be a goal even when I am retired.

Were you science-oriented as a young person?
I was an honor student in mathematics at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas. During my sophomore, junior and senior years I took extra credit course in algebra, calculus and topology.

What was your favorite book as a young person?
I wasn't much of a book person. As a junior in high school I read Advise and Consent by Allen Drury. I thought it was a good book.

What did you want to become when you were young?
Since high school I wanted to be a teacher.

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?
While making ground-breaking discoveries is always the goal, helping others reach their goals can also be very rewarding.

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