NASA Silicon Valley Podcast – Episode 60 – Jessica Marquez

NASA Silicon Valley Podcast – Episode 60 – Jessica Marquez


welcome to NASA in Silicon Valley
episode 60 last week we changed up the intro a little bit and I had
somebody else come in so we could record the introduction so I’d liked it so much
we’re gonna do that again so joining me here in the studio we have Kimberly
Minafra hey Matt so Kimberly is a science communicator and she works a lot with
the engineers and the technical side here over at Ames and you may recognize
her voice so a lot of the stories that she writes that go up on nasa.gov she’s
come in to also record an audio version of that for the podcast so but this week
we have an episode with Jessica Marquez somebody that Kimberly’s worked quite a
bit with that’s right Jessica is a human systems engineer and research scientist
right here at Ames in the human systems integration division she develops a lot
of tools that enable astronauts on the space station as well as training
astronauts and flight controllers in the field better plan out their workload so
she’s very integral to a lot of the work we do for now the missions now and
future missions pretty cool stuff yeah we had a lot of fun chatting with
her but before we jump into it just as a quick reminder we’d love to get your
feedback we’ve been using the hashtag NASA Silicon Valley you can go ahead and
jump on Twitter type that in so you can send us whatever feedback you may have
but we also now have a phone number so for those who like to do it old-school the number is six five zero six zero four one four zero zero we already got a
couple messages coming in so if you want to be a part of the podcast seriously
just call in we’re listening to all of those messages and we’re trying to
figure out for future episodes we’ll start integrating those messages in as
with our future guests don’t forget we’d love your feedback on the similar vein
if you could like share subscribe comment do whatever it is on your
favorite podcast app or social media that is really the best way for others
to find this content because you know as I say we are a NASA podcast but I also
want to remind you that we are not the only
NASA podcast we have Houston We Have a Podcast there’s also this week at NASA
that comes out every single Friday and also NASA has a master podcast called
NASA casts what they ended up doing is taking every single podcast that NASA
does and combining them into one giant RSS feed so that’s how you can find us
that’s how you can talk to us but for this week let’s hear from Jessica
Marquez how did you end up at NASA how did you
end up in Silicon Valley I actually grew up in Lima Peru okay and I moved to the
US after I finished high school to start undergrad and I had always been
interested in space I didn’t know what to do in space knew I was gonna do
something I knew I was gonna do something because I really liked it and
I didn’t just didn’t know what to do and I have this really clear memory of
writing at my mom always goes write a letter Jessica nice and so I wrote a letter I
remember going to the back of the library books and and finding a letter
that I someone I could write to about what I could do in space and space
science and I have this really clear memory of having the letter returned
back to me undelivered and I was so disappointed and when I started undergrad I decided
I’d like I was gonna try to do engineering okay and actually when I was
undergrad I was fortunate enough to get an internship here at NASA Ames really
so you came out to the Bay Area for school no I was actually in the East
Coast I was in Pinceton and through the NASA state grants
I got a internship with NASA Astrobiology Academy oh cool when I had just
started back in the 90s and I got to stay here at whole summer I got to learn
about what it’s like to actually work in in NASA what kind of things people did and our Astrobiology Academy group was very diverse we had people doing
space science so they’re investigating and learning about the universe we had
people that were in engineering and doing stuff with virtual reality we had
people in biology itself like geochemistry yeah and I ended up doing
work with earth science and looking at models and how we can improve the models
and and after that whole exposure with the Academy which was really great
because we got to see not just aims we got to see other centers yeah and
understand the scope of what it means to actually work in space in the space
world that I decided to go to grad school so I went to grad school and I
decided to shift my attention a little bit to the aeronautics astronautics I
studied mechanical engineering as an undergrad and then in grad school I went
to MIT and I was very fortunate to go to the man vehicle lab and in that lab
everything we did has to do with how humans interact with space and so that’s
how I truly delved and sort of grew in my passion of understanding how people
interact with space how people interact with complex aerospace systems yeah so
having been an engineer I never I totally shied away from doing anything
that was related to biology but one of the first things I learned was how does
the human body function in space because that’s very fundamental to how people
might operate and work and live in space and so I started doing that I got really
interested in how people use complex automation okay I started doing some
work in virtual reality and this is all almost 20 years ago
almost well I remember it like on the on the podcast we had Terry Fong on like
this is earlier back in like January and he’d talked a lot about those early days
of doing VR and now automation stuff were you working with him not Terry
specifically but with the groups yeah my lab is a was a very well funded lab they
had NASA grants so I was very engaged with with the NASA community pretty much
right as soon as I started grad school so my first exposure was my internship
here at Ames and then in grad school I started learning a lot more about this
specific area and so my project for my master’s thesis was really looking at
how we would train astronauts with using virtual reality to teach them about the
space station and so full circle I’m working now back here where I get to
actually help develop the training systems help develop the other systems
that support the space station so it’s really kind of cool to to sort of see
like that that little piece of research that I
started almost 20 ago yeah that just you know that thematically just prepared me to to
the point that I’ve now been working here in NASA Ames almost 10 years wow
so like did you while you’re finishing up school did you keep coming back and
doing internships or did you always kind of have in the back of your head
eventually I’m gonna end up back over there um so I when I was in grad school
I was fortunate enough that I had enough funding to stick around school and so I
did do I did have other NASA fellowships and other NASA grants that supported my
work but the first time I got to come back here was almost very much at the
end of my grad life yeah cuz we had an opportunity to start collaborating with
someone in Code TI where Terri is now
Code TI for folks that’s a they they work on all the automation robotics yeah and so
we started I started coming I came here once and and I had still maintained all
those relationships that I had built when I had been an undergrad and so I
was fortunate enough when I was starting to look for a job it actually kind of
happens and if you’ve ever tried to find a job applying just on a website is is
just the first step it’s really trying to reach out to the right people that
you know to have them connect you and start conversations and I very quickly
learned that and I was very grateful that I had maintained those
relationships I affectionately refer to things as like informational interviews
sometimes it’s like just you know being curious and talking to people about
their jobs and if you have a connection that’s like use it start those
conversations and even if it’s not if even if it’s not gonna lead anywhere it
makes you more aware about what people are looking for who to talk to
yeah potentially the opportunities for other jobs that you might not have been
aware of and so when I started interviewing for jobs I started doing
interviews for just human factors engineering that’s what I’m sort of
classically trained in the domain of human factors engineering specifically
space but I I was a sort of a wide range of stuff and I
very quickly realized that when I was doing the interviews I was just not
passionate about anything that was not about space oh yeah
and so what ended up happening I was just like yeah I know I’m I’m like shooting
myself on the foot here every time I go this yeah and so I was like okay they
changed my strategy I’m just gonna you know for a time period just gonna devote
all my attention to getting something in the space domain okay
and so I was applying to only things that were space related and then on a
lark I I was was gonna come out here to visit and I my mentor a Douglas O Hanley
I was like hey I’m gonna be out there is there anybody I should talk to yeah he
put me into contact with someone who put me into contact with someone else and
interviewing like spontaneously that afternoon when I was here who with the
person that basically hired me oh that’s awesome and it was that at that time
where we were NASA was doing 10 healthy centers okay and so that timeframe is
basically this the NASA headquarters said hey let’s have all the civil
servants work and support each other across the agency regardless of where
you are ok so it’s not like you’re competing and fighting with each other
for funding this is like everybody working together one NASA one big thing
and so there was an opportunity to really they were looking to make sure
that all the competencies were distributed
okay well across the the NASA as a whole and so that was just a golden
opportunity and I was I explain it to people like I was like I put all my
chips in one bucket except this one chip that I put out here in California okay I
knew very few people I had like my mentor out here but that was about it
no yeah and that was the one that you know beared fruit what section were you
working in what were you working on when you first came on board so the first
project that I got to work on was really interesting it was about how would we go
about making new training systems for astronauts for the new constellation
program the constellation program was focused on
not just creating a new rocket in a new spacecraft mm-hmm
to go on the rocket but also that it was gonna go to the Moon and it was gonna go
to Mars so from and for folks listed the
constellation eventually through through the joys of government bureaucracy and
changing priorities turned into basically what is now SLS more or less
which is the Space Launch System so I’m sorry
when it first started it was this integrated program where yeah we were
gonna do all these things under one program and the training part of it was
interesting because how do I prepare people to do all these things that I’m
not quite sure when they’re gonna do that and I’m not quite sure how the
system is gonna be actually created and done but yet still provide those
simulators in time and before you actually launch wow everybody puts on
the schedule when we’re gonna send someone up and we’re gonna launch them
on the rocket ship I’m like yeah but you don’t realize there’s a whole other
deadline that comes away before that where it’s like you train them to go on
the rocket ship and if you haven’t done that guess what things are gonna get
delayed yeah and that was another surprising thing I never knew that there
were all these other roles and mission operation that played a critical path
it all builds and grows yeah so that gave me the opportunity to start traveling to NASA
Johnson Space Center a lot so I started working with them traveling there
frequently I then started to get involved with the human-computer
interaction group and they were doing two types of and they still are doing
two types of work one of them has to do with mission data systems okay and the
other one is planning and scheduling systems and I wanted to work on the
planning and scheduling system because that’s what I’ve done for my PhD
Oh fun yeah and and they were making the actual planning and scheduling systems
to go to Mars to operate Rovers on Mars and I was like well yeah I want to do
that that’s why I did my PhD for sure as a PhD student you didn’t really realize
this is what you’re gonna you know you’d have an opportunity to actually work on
that thing being built so I joined that team and we got a lot of projects with
ISS I started doing planning and scheduling tools for the International
Space Station and that’s where again I was traveling a lot more to JSC and so
everything that I’ve been doing in Ames has centered around how people operate
and manage to work and live in space not from the biological sense or the
physiological sense but centered around how do you work how do you how do you
bring all these complex pieces together mm-hmm it’s like a complicated puzzle I
suppose and if everything doesn’t fit ever so perfectly yeah and there’s so
many other moving parts there’s like the training part there is maintaining the
hardware for Mission Control they’re all the different disciplines and Mission
Control that’s one of my favorite things to do when I go to JSC NASA Johnson
Space Center is just sit in Mission Control
it’s amazing you sit there and they let you if you have permission to go inside
that area you could just sit there and observe them just look at a computer and
you’re like oh well that’s what’s the big deal about just someone staring at
your computer I’m like they’re staring a computer because they’re watching a
giant spaceship go around the earth every 90 minutes that have six people
living in them wow and when you start thinking about the immensity of that
yeah and your little piece of contribution that you did for it it’s
just it just blows my mind which is this is why I love just even just sitting
there and just watching and looking at some of the stuff that you’re doing now
it does it still is so centered around like your day-to-day work today is it
still around that stuff around like the space station and keeping astronauts up
there yeah so with all our experience doing planning and scheduling for
International Space Station we started looking a lot more at what is the
astronaut need so for the last 10-12 years we very much focus on the
planner the planner is a person that integrates all the inputs from everyone
mm-hmm in ISS you have the crew is a person
that executes that plan yeah and when you do it on Mars
you have the rover execute things exactly as the command send yeah was
sent or as best as the commands can be interpreted by the robot yeah in Space
Station is very different you have a person you have to give them
instructions you need to give them enough instructions that they know what
to do without overwhelming them it’s like imagine you know you get your IKEA
instructions you’re like okay well I expect you to be done in an hour and you’re like what is this allen wrench what do I do this is the first time I’ve seen this how am I
supposed to how do I make sure that like how do I get all the parts where are all
the parts what order do I supposed to do this yeah or if I get interrupted it’s like I
oh where did I leave off in these instructions so even just little simple
things like I learned a lot about then how you work in space and actually do
the things that astronauts are doing in space it’s like the astronauts are
highly accomplished like extremely smart individuals but at the same time you
have all these different science experiments and different things and
you’re asking a lot of these people and you can’t be a a specialist in
everything and so it’s like you know we have the people who are building these
you know science experiments but at the end of the day you have a human being on
the space station that has to execute it and do it that’s so that’s crazy
so yeah I’d imagine like the planning logistics on that is just completely nuts
yeah so the things that we had emphasized before was how do we make
sure that that all the resources are in place to do this task yeah and more
recently we’ve been focused a little more on okay
now that you have all the resources how do we help the astronaut do their job
like for instance a very complex example is preparing for a spacewalk okay so to
do a spacewalk you need to do all sorts of things to prepare the space station
to make sure that it’s configured in a way that it’s most safe for the
astronaut because they’re gonna be going out there in case you didn’t know the
solar arrays in the space station move because they’re tracking the Sun when
you have a spacewalk I believe they’re fixed so you have to do all this
preparation so once you fix the space station the solar arrays in the space
station that means you’re affecting your power which then means you’re affecting
all the entire payloads all the size that’s happening on the space station
and your ability to use a robotic arm or your ability to manage life-support
systems and so if everything is like okay we have this one thing it’s like oh
yeah we’re gonna do a spacewalk it’s not that simple there’s a whole bunch of things
that are coming about to prepare for that and then you’re like okay well now
the astronaut has to do that there’s a whole other set of things that they have
to prepare to do that that specific task and so the work that we’ve been doing
has been focused on how do we make it easier to even though we have extremely
highly trained highly capable astronauts on space station how do we make their
lives easier kind of like if you ever encountered a really poorly design app
mm-hmm and you’re like you can’t you’re like I don’t know how nothing makes
sense it’s like it’s supposed to be a very you know a simple way to interact
or interface it then you’re like why couldn’t you have just done it this way
and it’s just been easier for me to understand and do my job that’s right and keeping in mind that there’s a lot of tech companies spending
a lot of money on people who are experts in design and human psychology and
having that consistency of where buttons go and why and how to make it make what
you want to do the path of least resistance and so in space the people
that are designing all these these tools for the astronauts we have a very
limited pool of people and so our job is to make the most efficient effective set
of systems that the astronauts can use effectively and easily wow and so we’ve
been developing different types of things like can we make their timeline
tool easier to use can we give them a little flexible
and allow them to schedule some of their activities there up there they should
know better what what they should do when but maybe you can’t do this
particular thing because you didn’t have enough power or you’re not supposed to
do them in that order so we don’t want to make we want to make sure that we
give the astronauts flexibility to do what they think is best and what they
might be most effective and efficient but at the same time we don’t want to
throw away all the good work that the people in the ground have done to create
a plan that meets all these different constraints that are going around so
what I wanted to talk about was well I’d need to do a plug for you on a recent
relatively recent activity we did called Google expeditions but also the location
where that was done was in our over at Ames we call it the Mars rover scape or
the rover scape so for those folks who aren’t aware listening who are unaware there’s an app
if you jump in it’s called like Google expeditions and it’s kind of a way that
teachers and students can kinda in a 360 VR type atmosphere do tours and look at
things and so NASA did a whole set of these had several different people you
know representing different centers and Jessica she was our person for Ames it
was set at the at the rover scape and you if you pull up the app and you look
up for Jessica’s you look around you can see these different points of interest
so talk a little bit about that why in the rover scape what was some of the stuff
related to that so we did in the rover escape because we wanted to
capture people’s imagination because it’s NASA but also captured people’s
imagination about what exploration might be like in the future so if you think
about how we send Rovers and potentially than people to Mars we’re gonna have to
be a little more autonomous and work more independently from Earth so this is
a reoccurring theme that you see in in Journey to Mars at the hashtag Journey
to Mars as we go farther and farther away
we inevitably hit this impossible not impossible but this physics constraint
the farther we go away the longer it takes for your message to go back and
forth the light can only travel so fast yeah
and so this bounced how frequently and how often you can actually talk back to
earth not just because of the speed of the the data the communication back and
forth but also because you’re going through a very tiny pipeline you
actually have to depend on very limited amount of data that is going from
interstellar space because it’s literally interstellar space yes it’s not
hyperbole back to earth and there’s only a certain certain number of satellites
and basically your pipeline is very small to get all that data so as we
start imagining what missions to Mars might be like with people and rovers you
start to realize how much more independent people and rovers are gonna
have to be from Earth because we’re just limited by physics and so the idea is
that one of our tools PlayBook it is a time line tool that hopefully will
help astronauts manage their own schedule more easily and we’re hoping
that this will be an integral part about how they work with rovers in future
missions and deep space missions and Mars missions and so does the PlayBook
software is that also related to some of the other Mars analog I think is what we
like to say other practice sessions that I know Ames has worked on either in
Idaho or Hawaii so one of the coolest things about my job is that we have to
become very clever in how we learn about traveling to Mars in deep space when we
can’t actually do it yeah so we finds all sorts of different ways
of simulating this environment and the earth analogs provide a really great way
of studying different aspects of the missions and different constraints that
we will encounter as we do these future missions and so PlayBook has been our
tool that we’ve been using and developing slowly over time and we call
it our next generation of planning and scheduling tools for NASA and we have
managed to test this in many different types of analogs we do it at NEMA which
is the underwater analog we’ve done it at BASALT which is looking at science
objectives in the context of Mars exploration we have done it in HERA
which is this JSC analog where people are in a confined environment in
isolation we are now actually also in high seas
which is this 8 month long analog wow where they put crew in isolation for 8
months oh wow and so we learn different things with different missions about how
self scheduling and playbook might work in these environments excellent so as a
throwback to folks listening to the podcast we had an episode with Darlene
Lim who works on BASALT on one of those so for anybody who wants to get
more information on that I will throw that into the show notes so people can
go back and listen to that episode but awesome and also for anybody if you’re
looking for the Google expeditions we’ll throw in a link for that if you want to
check out Jessica and you can move your phone around and 360 and see all the
little points and learn more about PlayBook and stuff but for folks who
have anybody has questions for Jessica we are on twitter at NASA Ames we use
the hashtag NASA Silicon Valley this has been way fun this is fascinating awesome
okay thanks for coming thank you

1 thought on “NASA Silicon Valley Podcast – Episode 60 – Jessica Marquez

  1. I'd like to see this podcast succeed. In the title please list the topic of discussion, not just the name of the guest. You may have a better chance of drawing in new listeners.

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