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Mission - Biographies

Steve Collins
Attitude Control Engineer, Deep Impact

Steve Collins What's the coolest thing about Deep Impact?

It's over, and it worked.

Why do you like working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory?

It's a very diverse place with lots of super smart people from cultures all over the world, and I get to work on amazingly cool stuff. Since coming here I've flown a spacecraft to Jupiter, driven a rover on Mars, crawled under a rocket, operated a spacecraft with an ion drive, crashed into a comet, and there is still a lot of space out there to explore.

What is your job on the Deep Impact project?

I'm an "attitude control" engineer. That means I'm responsible for keeping the spacecraft pointed in the right direction. I work with the gyros, the thrusters and star trackers and all the stuff that make the spacecraft turn. I also operate the thrusters whenever the navigation team decides they need to correct the trajectory.

How did you end up in Aerospace?

Picture of Steve Collins

As an undergraduate, I studied physics and astronomy and taught myself computer programming. In college, I read an autobiography of Buzz Aldrin. He wrote his PhD thesis on orbital rendezvous and that sounded interesting, so I did my Physics senior project on a similar topic. I was eventually hired by a small aerospace engineering company because of my computer skills and interest in space.

What do you do in your spare time?

I have a LOT of hobbies. I play soccer with a group of graduate students at Caltech. I study ballet. I act in local theater productions (I especially enjoy doing Shakespeare). I go to science fiction and storytelling conventions. I do comedy with a troupe and I play music in a rock band called Artichoke. And - I have two kids in high school! What spare time?

Who in your life inspired you?

Mr. Moelter, who taught me that there was more than one kind of algebra. Bill Burke, my college astrophysics professor who taught me to solve problems by "transforming them to a reference frame where they are easy to solve." Audrey Stanley, who got me hooked on Shakespeare.

What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?

I'd like to clean out the garage.

Were you science-oriented as a young person?

Picture of Steve Collins

As a kid I read a lot of books about science and space. I liked to take things apart to see how they worked. As I got older, I started fixing things that were broken, and then making my own modifications to things. I added a sidecar to my bicycle and made a printer for my computer out of an old electric typewriter. My first real job was working part time in a bicycle shop.

What was your favorite book as a young person?

You Will Go to the Moon, a kid's book about traveling in space.
Dr Posin's Giants, a bunch of biographies of famous scientists.
The Way Things Work, it had cut away drawings of lots of things.
Dune, the classic SF novel by Frank Herbert.

What did you want to become when you were young?

Like a lot of kids growing up at that time, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that seemed to be a pretty unlikely future. In Jr. High, I decided I wanted to be motorcycle racer and spent the next several years riding bicycles and motorcycles a lot. Early in High School I got interested in theater and started taking classes in modern dance, ballet and acting. In college, I ended up finishing two bachelor's degrees, one in theater arts and the other in physics.

If you weren't working in space exploration now, what would you be doing?

It's hard to say what I would be up to. My father is an Emmy winning cinematographer and when I first got out of school, I worked in the motion picture business for several years. I've also always been pretty interested in medicine. In an alternate universe I might have been a doctor.

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010