An Interview with Betina Pavri, Payload Engineer for the Dawn Mission

Meet Dawn's Payload Engineer for the Dawn Mission, Betina Pavri.
The following interview is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
Betina Pavri

McREL: Where do you work? And, what do you find most interesting about working?

BP: I work at JPL. I have never been able to make up my mind which I enjoy more: the excitement of pure scientific discovery or the engineering challenges of designing something that's never been built before. JPL doesn't force me to choose.

McREL: What is your role in the Dawn mission?

BP: I am the Payload Engineer for the Dawn Mission to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres. It is my job to understand what tools Dawn's Science Team will need to understand the history and composition of these asteroids and to ensure that the science instruments that fly on the mission meet those needs. I also need to verify that these instruments are compatible with the overall spacecraft design. Part of this role is to help design and perform appropriate tests to verify that everything will work as we expect, even when we push these instruments to environmental or performance extremes.

McREL: Which engineering team are you a member of and what is your role on that team? What is your team's role in the Dawn mission?

BP: I am a part of Dawn's Payload Office. I work together with the Payload Manager, a more senior engineer who oversees the financial and contractual aspects of the building and delivery of Dawn's science instruments. In truth, we both do some administrative and some technical work.

McREL: What is your everyday work life like?

BP: It varies greatly. Sometimes I do typical office work - writing documents, researching issues, answering email, and attending meetings discussing design and test issues for Dawn. However, in the year leading up to launch we had a lot of testing activities that required support for weeks at a time, at all hours (and for very long hours!). None of us got much sleep, but in the end we were successful and the Science Team and their instruments have performed very well.

McREL: What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the Dawn mission?

BP: Solving the technical issues to create a mission like Dawn is a challenge, of course. However, managing the people, resources, and logistics associated with making all of this happen often takes more of my time. Just making sure everyone is where they need to be, when they need to be there, with everything they need to get the job done, is probably the biggest challenge.

McREL: Can you share one of the unique aspects of the Dawn mission that fascinates you most?

BP: I love the fact that Dawn is a scientific adventure with an international team - we work in concert with scientists and engineers from both German and Italian institutions. Their contributions are invaluable, and the cultural exchange is a wonderful bonus.

McREL: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

BP: A pilot, a scientist, and later, an astronaut.

McREL: At what point did you determine that you would pursue a career in space science? Tell about the path that led you to this field.

BP: I have always had a curiosity about the natural world - I loved animals, bugs, rocks, plants, the stars, and so on. I started to get interested in space science in junior high to high school; I read science fiction and fantasy and devoured every astronomy book or magazine I could find. I started as a physics major in college, and worked for several summers at JPL. I ended up going to grad school in planetary geology, and I returned to JPL just over 10 years ago.

McREL: Who inspired you?

BP: I don't remember really idolizing anyone, actually. I didn't really have anyone pushing me to go into science or engineering, nor did I really know anyone in a field like that. It just seemed cool.

What subjects were you interested in as a young student?

BP: I loved lots of things, actually - science of all kinds, geometry, and history. I always loved to read.

McREL: What was your favorite book as a child and why?

BP: I remember really being inspired by the book and the TV series, Cosmos.

McREL: What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?

BP: Be curious. Never give up. Question. Wonder. Laugh.

McREL: What are your leisure time activities?

BP: I enjoy spending time reading, weightlifting, and attempting to surf.

McREL: Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?

BP: I would love to explore the Moon!

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