Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Interview with Don Shinners

Greetings friends!  Today it is my pleasure to introduce you all to my big time boss, the NASA director here at the TDRS White Sands Tracking Facility, Don Shinners.  How are you today Mr Shinners?  
I’m very well, thank you for asking.

Well I’m glad you took time out of your busy schedule today to talk to us.
It’s my pleasure. I had no idea you had a blog and this is the first time I’ve participated in one.

Well I’m glad you let me be your first blog experience. So I guess the first question I should ask is what exactly is your job here at the NASA White Sands complex?  
I am the senior NASA government official responsible for all the facilities associated with the White Sands Complex, (the WSGT, STGT, and ETGT Satellite Ground Stations), the Guam Remote Ground Terminal, and the Australian TDRS Facility in Dongara. Additionally, I am responsible for the health and welfare of the fleet of seven Tracking and Data Relay Satellites that make up NASA’s Space Network.

What is your background that let you land such an important job?  
I have been working in this environment for over 30 years now. I was hired by NASA in February 2008 for this position after managing the Near Earth Networks Services (NENS) contract for Honeywell Aerospace in Greenbelt Maryland from 2005 to 2008. Prior to the Program Manager of the NENS contract position, I was the WSC Program Manager (PM) from 1998 to 2005; I was the WSC Deputy PM from 1996 to 1997; I was the WSC Software Engineering Manager from 1995 to 1996; I arrived at WSC in April 1993 and was the WSC Project Manager of the TDRS-7 project. From 1986 to 1993 prior to coming to the WSC I held several Engineering and Management positions at a Satellite facility in Europe. I worked for Honeywell/AlliedSignal/Bendix for over 22 years in the satellite and ground systems business. So my experience is a perfect match for being the NASA WSC Station Director.

For those who are interested in working for NASA either as a contractor like myself, or as an official NASA employee like yourself what do you suggest they focus their studies on in College?  Tech school a better option than a traditional college?  How about military MOS/Career?  
The education requirements for my position are a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with major study in Aeronautical, Aerospace, Computer, or Electrical Engineering, or Physics, Applied Physics or Space Science. Curriculum must include coursework in mathematics, statistics, engineering mathematics, advanced engineering, differential and integral equations, calculus, and physics.
The most important requirement for this field of work is a Bachelor of Science Degree instead of a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Additionally, because I’m a senior manager I also have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree, it’s not a requirement but it certainly put me over the top of the rest of the candidates for this position.

Tech school is applicable for an Electronic Technician position in our Hardware Maintenance
department at the site. Additionally, in our Facility department we have HVAC and Diesel Mechanics where Tech School is required. Military training is applicable in these areas as well but if your MOS is in the Satellite Controller or Air Traffic Controller areas of emphasis that would make you a good candidate for a position in our TDRS Operations Control Center. Engineering and Computer Science degrees will make you eligible for a position in our Sustaining Engineering departments at the WSC.

How important is the TDRS system to the future of Space exploration and exploitation?  With the Shuttle Program complete and ISS the only manned object in orbit why bother upgrading the system and keep it active?  
The TDRS system is extremely important to the future of Space communication and exploration. There is no other space communication system comparable to the services we provide. The TDRS network provides critical support to NASA’s human spaceflight endeavors that began during the shuttle era and continues with ongoing International Space Station support. It also provides communications support to an array of science missions like HST and the Earth Observing System (EOS) directly connecting explorers and research scientists to their instruments; additionally, we provide unprecedented support to various types of launch vehicles like the Atlas, Delta, and SpaceX to name a few.

The TDRS system hardware and software is old and increasingly difficult and expensive to sustain posing a risk to the extremely highly reliable services we provide to our customers. The TDRS system is based on mid to late 80’s technology and is long overdue for a refresh. Because the performance of the Space Network is consistently at 99.9% over the past three decades, there was a “why fix something that’s not broke” mentality that has now caught up with us in 2012. We are currently in the process of building and launching three new TDRS satellites (TDRS-K, L, & M) and will be upgrading the TDRS ground systems to take us into the future of Space Network communications.

Why put this site at White Sands?  Why not in Houston or Cape Canaveral?  How important was it to put the tracking facility in the middle of nowhere?
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the Space Network was being developed, NASA wanted to place the TDRS Ground System at the most southerly location in the continental United States that would not be impacted by weather. Both Houston and Cape Canaveral are targets of hurricanes and inclement weather year round. In New Mexico, we only have to deal with the wind in the spring.

So what upcoming projects are you most interested in supporting?  
I'm most interested in the Space Network Ground System Sustainment (SGSS) project due to the fact that it is suppose to be NASA's next generation satellite ground station. Most importantly, we will finally step into the 21st century with "state of the art" equipment to do our job. Today, heroics are being performed to keep the WSC equipment functioning and for a mission as important as ours, we shouldn't have to do that. We should have the "current" technology to make our jobs easier.

I’ll return to work in a moment, but I’d like to ask a personal question first. It’s a well known fact here on the site that you’re a huge Bill’s fan, care to explain why?  
I was raised in the Buffalo, western New York area and my family still lives there. My father took me to my first professional football game in 1964 when the Bills played the Kansas City chiefs in their home opener at War Memorial Stadium in downtown Buffalo (by the way, we won that game). Lou Saban was the head coach and Jack Kemp was the quarterback and our overall record that year was 12-2 and we went on to become the AFL Champions. I have been a dedicated Bills fan ever since. (It hasn’t been easy and at times, very disappointing, but I continue with the abuse).

Can folks who are from around the Las Cruces area get a tour of the site?  How can educators get more information on the site?  
We do not provide public tours of our site because we are a secure facility. I am always available to provide presentations to the local schools including NMSU and UTEP. Over the years I have provided presentations to the local schools and also the Las Cruces Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce.

For those interesting in contacting me my contact information is:
Don Shinners
Station Director
White Sands Complex
12600 NASA Rd.  Bldg. T-20
Las Cruces, NM 88012
Phone: 575.527.7000

It has been a pleasure talking with you today, do you have any final thoughts or comments for our readers? I’ve enjoyed our discussion and appreciate your interest in NASA and specifically the Space Network.

Thanks again!  I’ll be seeing you around the site.  

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