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Meet the Team

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Frank Cepollina
Berkeley, California
SSCO Associate Director

What kind of work do you do as "SSCO Associate Director" of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office?

Our work is to advance technology so that humans or robots can efficiently repair satellites in orbit. That means keeping expensive satellites running longer and smarter so that they can produce more data for less money.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Being able to talk everyday with all the "doers," workers and planners. The best part is being able to talk and converse with them, understand their problems, and try to pull the roadblocks away so that they can keep on going.

What first interested you in working for NASA?

I grew up on a farm, and my job was to keep the tractors running and plowing the fields. I liked the work, but I thought it was much more fun and interesting to figure out why the tractors broke and try to fix them. As a kid I was also very much interested in building and flying model airplanes. When I went to college, the space race had just broken out, which stirred my interest in the technology and process of building rockets. That is what eventually brought me to NASA. I first went to work for a rocket building company called Aerojet General in Sacramento CA, and then I came East in the military. While I was on the east coast, I met a group of NASA people who were also doing engineering work. They told me that jobs were coming open if I was interested-and I was. The next thing I knew, I went from the west coast designing rockets to the east coast designing and working on spacecrafts at Goddard.

Where did you go to high school and college, and what degrees did you receive?

I went to high school at St. Mary's College Prep in Berkley, California. I graduated from the University of Santa Clara in California with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.

What made you want to work in satellite servicing, and what interests you the most about it?

Practical life. It began by thinking of how we do transportation in the ground. If something breaks, we usually fix it-we don't just throw it away. To me, it was astounding that we would just throw satellites away on orbit. It seemed that we should find a way to fix these satellites for economic and cost reasons, and for the scientific benefits we could derive. I wanted to find a way to fix and upgrade satellites, and in the early days, it was harder to do. Then the shuttle came along and it became easier to do, especially with the astronauts. With the shuttle going away, we now have to take everything we've learned in terms of building these special servicing tools for astronauts and convert those tools so that robots can use them. So it's kind of been an evolutionary step. This process started with our desire to get more out of our scientific and application satellites then we first thought we could get. With the shuttle, we wanted to prove that these servicing concepts could work, and with the astronauts, we wanted to show what these concepts would produce. So that helped. We had 11 shuttle-based servicing missions. With the shuttle going away, we took our greatest experiences working with astronauts and converted those tools to work with robots. In that cycle of life, we have evolved from the very rudimentary mundane process of building and throwing satellites away after a couple of years, to the point where like Hubble, we could be able to get a satellite to work for 20 to 25 years.

How long have you been at NASA?

I have worked for NASA since March 1963. I have worked for the government since March 1960.

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