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  Meet the Team

Mark Beckman : Flight Dynamics Lead

If you were to pass him in the hallway, you would most likely think that Mark Beckman is just like any other NASA aerospace engineer. After all, on the day he was interviewed Mark was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. But as ordinary as Mark may seem, he has a very extraordinary job to do - especially for those interested in seeing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) succeed. Mark's job as the Flight Dynamics Lead for LRO is to ensure the spacecraft's safe delivery to our nearest neighbor.

When he was asked how he first decided to become an aerospace engineer, Mark responded by saying it was something he always knew he wanted to do. When he was in fourth grade, Mark was voted "Most likely to become an astronaut," so you could say that his interest started at a very young age. Now after 16 years at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), that interest has paid off. In his tenure at GSFC, Mark has worked on NASA's past two lunar missions, Clementine and Lunar Prospector. Mark's experience on the lunar missions makes him the only person to be involved in all three of NASA's most recent missions to the Moon.

At first you might think to yourself, "How hard can it be to get a spacecraft to the Moon?" Indeed, when compared with our other celestial neighbors, getting to the Moon seems like a walk in the park. However, even getting to our closest neighbor takes lots of planning and preparation. In order to send LRO to the Moon, Mark must carefully plan the path the spacecraft will take to get to the Moon (the mission trajectory), the moves the spacecraft will make on its way (maneuvers), and once the spacecraft arrives, the orbit around the Moon. Keeping the spacecraft in proper orbit around the Moon will be no easy task, either. The Moon's gravity will have an effect on the orbital path LRO takes, and in order to understand the scientific data, that path must be closely monitored. The Moon's gravitational field varies widely depending on location, and little is currently known about the gravitational field of the far side of the Moon. In order to keep track of the Moon's gravity, the gravitational model that is currently used contains 20,000 variables. According to Mark, LRO will be tracked from Earth and the ground tracking data will be combined with the data from LRO to better constrain the Moon's gravity model.

Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, Yael, and their two daughters: Maya (2 12 yrs) and Julia (7 mos.). When he's not at work or with his family, Mark spends his free time running and playing poker. In addition to LRO, Mark is also the Flight Dynamics Lead for the James Webb Space Telescope. When he was asked about the most rewarding part of his job, Mark replied "watching the spacecraft launch after years of planning." We agree, Mark. We'll see you at the launch in 2008.


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