||By Brandi Bernoskie,
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
When Kelly Teague was little, she and her father would sit on the covered porch of their home and talk during rainstorms. "I would ask him every question I could think of, and it seemed like he always had an answer," Teague remembers. "If he didn't, then he'd find it later and the next time it rained, I'd get the answer. For some reason, all of those questions pertained to science." Her father worked as an engineer at a local gas company, and his career led her to an interest in energy production and physics.
Teague's parents encouraged her to pursue science in college. While Teague was there, she decided to major in computer engineering as well. She was first exposed to the type of work she currently does as an intern at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia. There she learned more about software that is used in machines, like satellites, that interact with the world.
Teague works as a flight software engineer for NASA's CERES experiment. CERES stands for Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System. There are currently six different CERES instruments on board four spacecraft. The CERES instruments take measurements of the reflected sunlight and thermal energy emitted by the Earth. The data collected from the CERES instruments provide scientists with information on how much solar energy is absorbed, allowing them to map the absorption across the Earth's surface. Scientists are using CERES data to better understand the role of clouds and Earth's energy cycle in global climate change.
Teague writes flight software loads for CERES instruments. "Flight loads are used to change instrument behavior, from the way that science data is recorded and reported, to the way the instrument actually operates," she explains. Teague recently created nine data patches, which were uploaded to a CERES instrument on the Terra spacecraft. "It was an amazing experience to actually watch the flight loads that I created be uploaded to an orbiting instrument, and then see the instrument parameters change as a result," Teague adds.
Recently, Teague's fondness for asking questions led her to find a unique way to modify one of the instruments she works with, creating a new way to command it. "I'm not entirely certain, but I don't think that has ever been done before," Teague says. "It was kind of cool, the idea that I can make an instrument do something that it was never designed to do."
"At times, my job is stressful," Teague confesses, "but I would be unhappy if it weren't. I feel like my work is important and necessary." For Teague, the stress of getting the software she writes correct is evidence that her role and work matter. "I think that we must develop a better understanding of how our actions impact our environment. I hope that my work can somehow contribute to that understanding."
Teague continues to ask questions and look for answers, just as her father taught her, and she encourages others to do the same.