The scientists at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., play a role in nearly every aspect of NASA’s missions to space. And Trevecca Nazarene University graduate Kevin Bradshaw is now one of those scientists.
Bradshaw graduated from Trevecca on May 5 and started his job as a data management coordinator on May 14. His work centers on making sure the bandwidth needed for communication between the International Space Station (ISS) and the earth is sufficient.
It’s highly technical work that employs all the skills he learned as a physics major, but Bradshaw likes to explain it in simpler terms.
“You know when you’re at home and there’s someone on the computer, and someone on their laptop, and someone else is on their phone? And you want to play a game online on the Xbox, and everything just slows down and stops working?” he said. “Our job is to make sure things don’t get backed up like that because there are important data packets and information that come down [from space] and need to go to different places around the world. It’s really important that we don’t lose anything, so it’s important we have enough bandwidth and that everything keeps working.”
A wide array of scientific experiments are taking place on the International Space Station at all times, and every experiment must be videoed. By making sure the connections between the antennas that transport results to earth, Bradshaw helps to ensure that no data is lost.
“We set the bandwidth on the space-to-ground antennas,” he said. “We monitor the telemetry and health and status of different payloads and make sure everything is still working. If something stops working, they’ll ask us how to fix it because we know a lot about the network, the connections between all the boxes and antennas. The pathways that either video or data will come down, that’s our job.”
While Bradshaw may have just started his first fulltime job at Marshall Space Flight Center, he isn’t a stranger to the facility or the work. He started working at the center during the summer of 2016, following his sophomore year. It all came about after a conversation with his cousin.
“I have a cousin who works there … and I saw her Thanksgiving of my sophomore year, and she said, ‘Hey! Do you want to come work with us this summer?’” he said. “I said, ‘Of course!’ I mean, what else am I going to do this summer? Of course, I want to work for NASA for the summer.’”
That summer, Bradshaw met people and “got his foot in the door.” His hard work paid off. When a position came open last fall, the first semester of Bradshaw’s senior year, he was offered the job.
“I got a call from my cousin last semester, close to the end of it, and she said, ‘They’re going to hold a spot open for you if you can come down and do training two days a week.’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ll find a way to make that work.’”
So, Bradshaw spent much of the spring semester on the road between Nashville and Huntsville, which he described as “really tiring at times.” While working part-time, Bradshaw completed the training and classes that are required for his position.
Bradshaw feels well prepared for the future. From concepts he learned in classes to skills he honed in the lab, Bradshaw says the broad base of knowledge in physics he now possesses will all be a part of his everyday work in Huntsville.
“The training process is usually about a year long to certify in your position, so you can do it by yourself,” Bradshaw said. “There was this guy who was about to certify in a couple of weeks. A lady who was certified [was working with the other employee] and asked him to tell her what was wrong with the display if it looked a certain way, and she clicked a couple of buttons. He didn’t know.
“I looked over and I could see that she had turned on the path of the sun,” he continued. “This particular display shows the link between the satellites and the antenna. She asked him what the problem was again, and he still didn’t know, so I kind of raised my hand.”
Bradshaw says an astronomy class with Dr. Matthew Huddleston, professor of physics, helped him to solve the problem. Because the antennas used to communicate between the ISS and the earth are radiation-seeking—which is how they find the satellites to relay necessary information back to earth—they would likely lock onto the sun in that scenario, rather than the satellite, stopping the flow of data between the ISS and the center.
Since his summer and part-time experiences at the Marshall Space Center have been so amazing, Bradshaw looks forward to the future. He got to meet astronaut Scott Kelly, who set the record for the most days spent in space in 2015, during his internship. Recently, Bradshaw was in the room and working when an ISS astronaut was on a spacewalk. He got to watch from the viewpoint of the astronaut’s personal camera.
“A lot of kids want to grow up to be an astronaut,” Bradshaw said. “I’m not going to be an astronaut because that actually takes a horrific toll on your body, but I get to have a job in the space industry.
“I get to sit in the room where they talk space-to-ground,” he continued. “There’s this big video panel [that has a view of the earth on it]. You can watch the station go around and see the sun rise and set six or so times in a shift. It’s just beautiful—and I can sit there and look at it.”