|By Brandi Bernoskie,
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Growing up, Mark Fujishin was fascinated by anything that flew. He wanted to know how heavy objects, like airplanes, rockets, and satellites, could fly so far and so fast. He enjoyed flying model airplanes and rockets, and watching television shows about space travel. "My brothers and I even made our own rockets with fireworks and tin foil," Fujishin remembers, "but my parents were less than supportive of this for obvious reasons."
When Fujishin started college, it was clear to him that he was interested in studying science, but it took him a few years to settle on his major in physical science. He began his career as an engineer at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, using some of the technical skills he began developing when he worked on rockets with his brothers.
With a love of things that fly, it seems logical that Fujishin should find himself in a career working with NASA satellites. His job is complex, involving long hours attending meetings, creating documentation, and working with budgets before a satellite is sent to space. "The real reward comes when a satellite you've worked on for months or years finally launches," Fujishin says.
As a satellite program manager, Fujishin collaborates with other members of his mission operations team to keep several satellites functioning well and transmitting data to Earth. Scientists use this information to monitor the Earth and track its changes, which provides indications as to what may happen in the future.
Each day brings new challenges. "Satellites are basically very complex robots that we've placed in orbit high above the Earth's surface, but in the cold vacuum of space," Fujishin explains. "It's sometimes difficult to keep them operating well, since controlling the satellites must be accomplished by remote control from command stations on the ground, and in some cases even through other data relay satellites."
Fujishin says that working on these satellites is "kind of like having children." Each one is so different, providing a new and unique global perspective. Together, they help create a bigger picture of what is happening on Earth.
"My hope is that the information and discoveries enabled by these satellites will help the Earth's governments and societies understand better how they can keep the planet healthy and productive," Fujishin says. "Since this appears to be our only home for the foreseeable future, we should all strive to ensure that it remains a neighborhood we'd all like to live in."
Fujishin encourages students interested in Earth science to consider the wide range of careers available to them. "There will always be a place for someone who is excited and motivated about what they know, and can communicate to others why it's important," he asserts. Just as Fujishin and his brothers worked together on model airplanes, it also takes teams of people to build satellites, interpret the data they collect, and share those findings with the public.