SIRTF Profiles: Dr. Douglas B. McElroy
Observatory Planning & Scheduling
Early in my life, the Soviet Union launched this artificial moon they called "Sputnik." While this is probably too long ago for you young whippersnappers to remember, it profoundly affected me. The USA wanted to "catch up" with the USSR, so they encouraged (pushed) science, math, and engineering on kids all the way down to kindergarten. This worked very well with me at least.
In high school, while researching the usual "what do you want to be when you grow up" kind of paper, I was shocked to find there were institutions that would let you look through HUGE telescopes AND pay you money to do so! What a racket! I decided I had to cash in on that.
I was not alone in this idea, however. In order to weed out the crowd of kids wanting to do this, the schools involved made you take large amounts of math and science courses and get A's in them. I managed to do this somehow, and graduated from Caltech with a degree in Astronomy.
Finding Pasadena too temperate a place, I headed for Arizona State University near Phoenix, Arizona. The joke there was that, despite being in Arizona, the University had no telescopes. After figuring that out, I spent four years doing my grad work at Kitt Peak National Observatory, which does have telescopes.
After seven years in Arizona, I alertly noticed that it was hot. So I went for a Postdoctoral position at the University of Minnesota. I was trying to strike an average temperature over time.
Alertly noticing that Minnesota was cold, and that the University again had no telescopes, I moved to Maryland to work at the Space Telescope Science Institute. They had no telescopes there, either, but they promised they would eventually have one, and only 200 miles away (straight up, every 94 minutes). There, I learned how to work on projects that haven't been launched yet, invaluable training for SIRTF. After twelve years of that, I noticed it was too humid in Maryland, and so wound up back in California, first on Cassini at JPL, which actually did launch on time, a first, and now SIRTF.
With Hubble, Cassini, and SIRTF, I have been working on planning and scheduling, which in this case means telling the spacecraft where to look and what to do every second of every day, without wasting time. In and around that, I have been able to do research on galaxy dynamics, especially polar-ring galaxies. Since I have heard rumors that Caltech does, indeed, have some telescopes somewhere, I will be looking for them soon to do more research.