Meet the IBEX Team: Greg Frazier
At 15-years old, Greg Frazier didn't know exactly what an aerospace engineer did, but he knew he wanted to be one.
"I would spend hours watching airplanes," Greg said. "If anyone asked me why I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, I would tell them that I wanted to be able to explain how airplanes flew."
Now, Greg works in aerospace engineering as the IBEX Mission Manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He oversees the work of the IBEX mission partners to make sure that IBEX gets off the ground.
"Right now I make sure that [Southwest Research Institute and their partners] are doing all that they proposed they would do, and I provide any assistance I can in terms of NASA resources like engineers and/or facilities to help them do the mission properly," Greg said.
Currently, Greg is assisting Southwest Research Institute with evaluating the rocketry aspects of the mission, which includes the maneuvers that will occur when IBEX separates from the Pegasus launch vehicle.
Managing the IBEX mission means that Greg must anticipate the needs of the IBEX team far in advance. His favorite part of the job is seeing the team meet its goals with his help. However, being a manager means that Greg often misses spending time discussing engineering problems.
"Because I want to and need to stay ahead of where we currently are in the mission, I can't spend a lot of time discussing the technical issues and topics that I really enjoy. As an engineer I enjoy spending all day talking about technical topics, but as a manager, I can't," Greg said.
Greg's office is not far from where he first began preparing for his engineering career as a public school student in Baltimore. Greg attended the prestigious Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, which trains high school students for careers in science and engineering. In 1985, he graduated with a BS in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park. He has been working for NASA ever since, beginning as an entry-level engineer and working his way up to IBEX Mission Manager.
His parents inspired him to pursue higher education. "My parents, although they didn't have a great deal of formal education, achieved a lot. My father inspired me because he instilled in me a strong work ethic. My mother inspired me and my brothers and sisters because she instilled in us the importance of education. Because they inspired us, we're all high-achievers," Greg said. His brothers and sisters have degrees in chemistry, law and nursing.
Greg advises students who lack inspirational role models to seek them out. "There are role models out there. I'm African-American, and there are other people like me in science and engineering fields. They are just not effectively advertised. I frequently share my experiences with children at schools in Baltimore. How much you want the information dictates whether you find a role model. There are role models everywhere. Get in touch by contacting companies, government agencies or technical organizations that do the things you are interested in. They will help you," he said.
Greg recommends contacting organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Technical Association and the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers for help in finding mentors.
Before he worked for NASA, Greg didn't realize how important math was to engineering, or what excellent problem-solvers NASA employees are. He did enjoy math and recommends that students interested in science, technology, and engineering careers "Master math now. The math that you are working on right now will be used in an engineering career. You can't learn the next level of math unless you can do the math you're being taught now."
His education prepared him to be one of NASA's problem solvers. "In school the problems had solutions, but at NASA there may not be any existing solutions. But my education taught me to think logically through each problem I encounter. For each increasing level of responsibility I've been given, it's never been too far for me to reach. I am prepared because of the foundation I've gotten through my schooling," Greg said.
At NASA, finding and implementing solutions to all the engineering problems on a particular project can take years. "Because it takes a long time to do a NASA mission and do it successfully, my biggest challenge is being patient," Greg said. "NASA engineers work on a project until it launches, which takes three, five or seven years. That's a long period of time. I had to learn to look at short-term results rather than long-term results. There are lots of successes other than launch that I have come to enjoy."
When asked what he would say to people who may not find engineering and technology careers interesting, Greg exclaimed, "I couldn't imagine that! Who couldn't find this interesting? To them, I would say to take a look at how engineering affects their everyday lives. Engineering is everywhere; take a look around! From computers to automobiles and for kids, X-Boxes, all those items were engineered."
His enthusiasm for all things engineered includes the IBEX mission. "I am truly excited about IBEX and the mission we are going to do. It has a wonderful goal and a fun implementation. It's an engineer's dream of how we are going to achieve the orbits and make the measurements, and meet our goals successfully. The team is outstanding. This is a real opportunity for me to learn a lot and be a part of this mission."