Name: Jen Scheer
Location: Merritt Island, Florida
Occupation: Space Shuttle technician
Jen Scheer has always had her head in the clouds. Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, she wanted to be an ornithologist , or bird researcher, when she grew up. Her interest in winged things didn’t end there, Jen was always fascinated with airplanes. This passion led to flying lessons with the Florida State University Aviation Club, where she began learning about aircraft maintenance. “When I was flying, I enjoyed being around planes and spent time at the hangar. I wasn’t allowed to do any maintenance then, of course. I was interested in how they worked, but I was an art major at the time. I was very interested in learning how to restore warbirds, specifically those with “nose art,” the neat designs that used to be painted on war planes,” she says. Once she got a taste of repairing planes she was hooked. She hit the books at Lively Aviation School in order to get her Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic’s license. Later she learned about how to fix larger flying objects, namely those in the field of aerospace.
As a Space Shuttle Technician, Jen’s career began out of a different sort of love. Her husband was working at the space center at the time and he urged Jen to apply. These days Jen doesn’t exactly have your typical nine-to-five. “Currently, my job consists of maintenance of shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System Pods, Forward Reaction Control System modules, and associated ground support equipment,” she says. Before your eyes glaze over, Jen explains what that actually means.
“The orbiter is the black and white airplane-like part of the shuttle. A lot of people call it the shuttle, but generally the name shuttle refers to the orbiter plus the solid rocket boosters and orange external tank,” she says. “The Orbital Maneuvering System Pods are called OMS (pronounced like ‘ohms’) Pods for short, and they are the two large bumps you see on the orbiter on either side of the tail. They each contain a large engine and small thrusters that are used to move the orbiter around once it is in space, for things such as docking to the International Space Station, or performing the de-orbit burn that allows the astronauts to return to earth at the end of their mission.
The Forward Reaction Control System known as the FRCS, is a piece of the orbiter that sits just forward of the crew module, almost like it’s across the nose of the orbiter. It also houses thrusters for maneuvering in space. The OMS pods and FRCS have several tanks inside to fuel the engines and thrusters, and a network of tubing and valves, electrical wiring and sensors, and silvery looking ‘blankets’ to control the temperature inside. The OMS pods and FRCS are removed from the orbiter and transported to my work area for processing. We process the pods in one of two ways and ship them back.
One way is to check out the entire pod system including all thrusters, fuel and oxidizer tanks and their related systems, and complete a structural inspection. This is scheduled maintenance, and occurs once every five flights. The second way is called a “drop-in” which happens when there was damage from a mission. The problem is diagnosed and the system is repaired or replaced. The pod is then shipped back to the Orbiter Processing Facility to be attached to the orbiter.”
Which means that Jen spends her days doing diagnostic tests with a meter, performing a variety of inspections, cleaning the equipment, and occasionally replacing parts that have conked out, like cutting out a valve and welding in a new one. She’s like a very well-informed mechanic, only instead of cars and trucks, she’s working under the hoods of stargazing shuttles that can weigh up to 165,000 pounds when empty.
Although many people make up the space program, Jen admits that there’s a bit of a gender gap. Out of her initial group of twenty-five co-workers, Jen was the only girl, these days she’s one of two women. Though this provides a bit of a challenge, she’s proven herself and feels comfortable among her fellow space cadets.
Jen aspires to lure more men and women into space. “I’m really into space outreach. I think it is very important to get people interested in space exploration so that it will continue,” she says. She’s even launched an online group called the Space Tweep Society. Consisting of a bunch of space enthusiasts, these like-minded cosmos-connoisseurs use Twitter as a medium to promote their passion. “Our ranks include NASA and other space program employees, astronomers, journalists, astrophysicists, scientists, educators, and space geeks,” she says. “Our mission is to promote enthusiasm for all things space and to unite those inside the space industry with those who are on the outside looking in.”
For shooting for the stars and keeping the space shuttles running, we think that Jen Scheer is one very Cool Girl!
Check out the Space Tweep Society Blog at http://spacetweepsociety.org, or just follow Jen on Twitter, @flyingjenny