Every other month, Random Profile spotlights a stochastically chosen staff member. This month we feature Doug Woodard, a project engineer with the HIRDLS Project Office.
Doug Woodard with a computer-generated mockup of the optical bench for the HIRDLS instrument. Infrared light entering through the "hot dog aperture" (the oblong opening near the top) is reflected and refracted through the instrument and sampled at 500 times per second in each of 21 spectral channels. (Photo by Carlye Calvin; illustration courtesy Phil Arter.)
So who does he work for, anyway?
Technically, the University of Colorado. Doug joined ACD in 1991 to work on the high-resolution dynamics limb sounder (HIRDLS), an instrument that will measure ozone, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other airborne constituents from space. In February 1997 the HIRDLS Project Office was transferred to CU's newly formed Center for Limb Atmospheric Sounding. The program itself remained in the FL4 location where it resides today, with Doug and six other former ACD staff on board. John Gille, who oversees the U.S. component of HIRDLS, continues half-time as an NCAR senior scientist. The project is a collaboration between the Boulder team and a group at Oxford University, England, led by John Barnett.
What he has in common with Thomas Edison:
Doug's an engineer who never earned a degree in the subject. "Actually, I have a master's degree in physics, but I've never gotten a job as a physicist. All my jobs have been in engineering. This has worked out well because I've been able to contribute in a variety of fields, rather than becoming obsolete in five years in a narrow engineering specialty."
Where his time goes:
Doug has spent almost half of the last several years putting together the HIRDLS Instrument Technical Specification (ITS), which guides the HIRDLS construction team at Lockheed Martin. "It doesn't tell you how to build the instrument; it tells you what the instrument has to be able to do when you're done." The ITS is now far along in an alphabetic sequence of updates: "We started at A and just did a massive revision between R and T. Now I'm working on U, which should be a minor cleanup." Another 30% of Doug's time is spent preparing and proofing interface control documents. These detailed specifications define the links between different parts of the HIRDLS instrument. The task is vital because HIRDLS is being developed by two teams of scientists, each in a different organization in a different country. "Since neither side has complete contractual oversight, you have to take time to be sure the subsystems mesh correctly." The rest of his workday is divided among the usual miscellany: e-mail, phone calls, and fixing other group members' Macintosh problems.
What's satisfying about his job:
"Solving problems. Bringing organizations together when they reach an impasse. Coming up with creative technical solutions and making sure the documentation is complete enough."
What gives a satellite designer nightmares?
"You put a decade of your life into one of these things and it crashes on launch." For example, France's highly touted Ariane 5 launch vehicle exploded on 4 June 1996 above French Guiana less than a minute after its first takeoff. "It was spectacular--it rained debris, including bits of the payload satellites, over a large area." The accident occurred because software from the Ariane 4 had been reused without being properly upgraded. "The failure scenario was reconstructed in exacting detail, but I'm sure this wasn't much consolation to the payload teams." HIRDLS is slated for launch in 2002 aboard a Delta rocket, "which is a well-established launch vehicle."
Previous work lives:
After completing his master's degree at the University of Michigan in 1966, Doug worked as a development engineer for General Radio Company (Bolton, Massachusetts) before moving to the Boulder area in 1969. He then did design engineering for Scientech; senior electronics engineering at CU; machining and programming at Emerling Machine Tools in Nederland; and, through the 1980s, a range of tasks at Boulder's now-defunct Tycho Technology.
Most offbeat job:
A brief stint at RELA helping to design systems to verify that commercials were being aired as scheduled on local TV stations. Before the process was automated, "they'd tape shows, and then a set of humans would watch them to verify the length of the commercials. This was extremely tedious, expensive, and error prone. I got in on the tail end of the automation process, dealing with signal processing. We'd divide the TV screen into regions and try to verify the content of each region." The biggest problem was distinguishing among talking heads: "They all tend to look alike."
If he hadn't become an engineer:
Doug might have spent his career in religious sanctuaries. He began playing piano and organ at age six and (despite his Presbyterian roots) served as the organist at the First Baptist Church in his hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. Although he doesn't perform for audiences anymore, Doug still enjoys playing church organs, such as the one at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Boulder. He's gotten the green light to play the organ at St. Michael's at the Northgate, a medieval church in Oxford, when he's there for HIRDLS meetings. "It's very pleasant. It's a small building but it has pretty reverberant acoustics." As for his repertoire, "I play a lot of Bach, as most organists do. Lately I've been working on the Toccata in F Major and on the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor. "
Most devious mischief:
Doug is an amateur locksmith. "I'm not registered, but I've done a lot of it for the fun of it." While attending Alma College, he took a few campus locks apart and deduced the master key configuration for the entire campus. "I took the key and tried it in a number of places--the president's office, the administration building." The prank stopped there. "I decided, 'That's that. Now on to the next challenge.' " BH
Edited by Bob Henson,
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall