What I do at NASA
I said in my opening blog that I’m an aerospace engineer at NASA. What does that even mean? What is NASA?
I have seriously had to answer to people who thought NASA was shut down. I don’t want to disparage them, everyone leads complicated busy lives. I wake up every day thinking NASCAR is shut down and am bitterly disappointed that it’s not.
I also often have to answer what I do in social situations. This is tricky depending on the audience. Usually its a social gathering far outside work. For this audience I have to be brief, concise, and also tickle their fancy like a little bell in a closet. I can’t just say I do engineering- that shuts the conversation down. I’m trying to impress these people. For this situation I have a pre-packaged one-sentence response with a well placed cliff hanger that makes the audience beg for more:
I lead a team that designs and develops the ground system operations software for processing measurements of the Orion spacecraft’s position, velocity, and other things.
This has several buzz words that someone is bound to bite on, and ends with a handwaving other things. This way, if someone is already bored then they got what they asked. Otherwise, they can inquire more and further slate my ego. Yeah we take measurements from ground radars, space based satellite tracking, and the Deep Space Network. Yeah the ones with the huge dishes they use for the Mars rovers.
If on the other hand the audience is a fellow geek nerd, it gets tricky. These guys usually have low social skills and high technical skills with an unknown temperament. You can tell who they are by the way they are. For this type of audience I flip the script and get even more coy.
I do math.
Now the nerd’s area of expertise sticks out like a whip. The whip does a few things like whip things or allow passage over a crevasse, but it does not do everything. The nerd will attempt to link your work to his whip, in an effort to slate their own ego. He thinks he can drive your nail in with his whip.
We can’t have that. I’m the smartest guy in the room, even if I’m not.
By upping the coy to 90% or even higher, I deflect any attempt by the nerd to scoff at my work as “amateur and puerile”, which let’s be real it is. I work for years on a project which at best will send a handful of humans to an asteroid, at worst will get canceled upon Emperor Trump’s coronation. I maintain the air of mystery.
I’ll write articles about more detail, but will mete them out for the aforementioned reasons of ego market manipulation. Just take away with you that I do math. It’s complicated.