An Interview with Paul Fieseler

Meet Dawn's Lead Spacecraft System Engineer, Paul Fieseler
The following interview is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
Paul Fieseler, Lead Spacecraft System Engineer

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

FF: I work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In my current job, every day there is something new to learn about a spacecraft. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but I have never liked to be bored.

What is your role in the Dawn mission?

FF: Lead Spacecraft System Engineer – that means that it is my job to oversee the team that “flies” the spacecraft. There are no astronauts on board; rather  a robot we control remotely flies the spacecraft. I also spend a lot of time writing computer instructions that tell the spacecraft what it should do, and testing those instructions to makes sure they will work.

What is your everyday work life like?

FF: At the moment, it consists of extremely long hours. We are less than 100 days to launch and we need to test out all the instruments and parts of the spacecraft that we intend to use.

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

FF: I’m trying to learn as much about all the hardware and software on the spacecraft as I can. There are several cameras, gyroscopes, multiple computers, radios, heaters, coolers, ion engines, solar arrays, batteries, thrusters and all sorts of software to learn about.

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

FF: I have worked on a few previous missions  that were sending spacecraft to places where other spacecraft have already been, although our missions were always with new science instruments. Dawn is the first mission I have been on that is pure exploration – no spacecraft has been to the dwarf planet Ceres or the asteroid Vesta.

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

FF: I’m told that when I was 2 years old, I wanted to be a dump truck. Not the driver, but the vehicle itself. In that, I am such a miserable failure.

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.

FF: My dad worked on the Apollo missions, so that was a big influence. I also wanted to be a forest ranger, but we could only afford the in-state school. That was in Kansas, which does not have much in the way of forests.

Who inspired you?

FF: My dad.

What subjects were you interested in as a young student?

FF: I did like science of all kinds.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

FF: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. There was a lot to think about in that book and it was beautifully written and illustrated.

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?/p>

FF: Having a 4.0 GPA isn’t everything, but your grades should be high enough that when opportunities come along for something like a summer hire job, you have a shot at it. That, and work on a motorcycle engine or something similar – too many engineers don’t have good instincts for how the real world works.

What are your leisure time activities?

FF: Sailing. I have a 27-foot sloop that I take out on the ocean when I get the chance. I like to go hiking in the mountains, too.

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

FF: I’m still trying to learn how to carry really large loads of dirt on my back.

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