Meet the IBEX Team: Danny Everett
As a mechanical technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Danny Everett has tested, assembled, and helped design and build equipment that has traveled to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon.
When the IBEX spacecraft launches in 2008, Danny will have assembled the IBEX-Hi sensor that collects particles from the interstellar wind. Ultimately, IBEX-Hi and its companion sensor, IBEX-Lo, will help scientists map the boundary of the Solar System.
Assembling such sensitive equipment requires innovation, patience, and a steady hand. "In the last month we've been developing techniques for building the IBEX-Hi carbon foils. Each foil is a very fragile, delicate, thin film that's been vapor deposited on a glass slide. If you barely even brush it, it disappears," Danny said.
The foils allow the particles that scientists want to study to enter the sensor, and filter out particles that they don't want to study, like those from the Sun. To assemble the microscopic foils, Danny and his team created a new technique that doesn't require human hands to touch the delicate pieces. "We float the carbon foil off the glass microscope slide onto water. Then, we float the carbon foil onto the screen assembly," he said. "It's been really interesting. It's been one of those things that have taken a lot of brainstorming and trying ideas, and we've come up with some really innovative ways of doing it."
For Danny, the teamwork and creativity needed to solve technical challenges make his job consistently interesting. "The teamwork it takes, and all the dedicated professional people from all across the country - from different walks of life and different agencies - is really enjoyable, and makes the job really exciting," he said. "Every program I've worked on through the years has had its own set of technical challenges. It's enjoyable to try to work through these challenges, and it's very rewarding when you work through them. Each one is different. It's been a lot of fun to produce cutting edge technology and groundbreaking ideas, and that's what makes things enjoyable, and keeps things fresh for me."
Working on NASA missions was never part of Danny's life plan. "Thirty years ago, I never would have believed anyone who told me anything I made was going to another planet," he said.
Danny grew up in Northern New Mexico's Espanola Valley, near Los Alamos National Laboratory, where his father worked as a technician. "The Apollo missions were a big thing in our family when I was a kid. They were a big inspiration to me," Danny said. He wanted to grow up to be "anything from a cowboy to the president."
During his teenage years, Danny hoped to study veterinary science. "I grew up with horses, cattle, and sheep on a small family farm, so it wasn't so much an interest as a way of life - a big part of my life," he said.
As an adult, Danny still pursues his interest in animals. He calls himself a "fishing junkie," and finds time to ride horses with his brother. He also enjoys training his two dogs, a Rottweiler and a yellow lab, who hunts with him.
Danny credits his father for teaching him skills that have been important to his success as a mechanical technician. "My father taught all his kids to have a good work ethic, to pay attention to detail, and that there's nothing that can't be done. My father has been the biggest influence on my life."
After high school, Danny completed courses in mechanical design, drafting, materials science, and working in vacuum systems. Landing his mechanical technician job was "a lot of luck," Danny said, but his mechanical skills, good work ethic and mechanical trade school background helped. He said, "Prior experience taught me the discipline of preserving, and the determination to succeed. There's always a way to make things work."
He advises that people trying to break into work as a mechanical technician should "try to enhance educational skills that they might want to apply through this type of field. Mechanical and electrical engineering design and vacuum courses are important. Also, stay with it, and if it's something you get into and enjoy, go for it! It's a great field.
It's clear that Danny thoroughly enjoys his job. "There's something new everyday in this business so there's never any boredom; you get opportunities to work on cutting edge technology, and you develop good working relationships and lifelong friendships. You also get to travel and see launch facilities and complexes, and things most people never see in their entire lives. There's lots of satisfaction when you're involved in such important work. I love the job and couldn't think of a better one," Danny said.
Although he has worked at Los Alamos for 20 years, Danny is still awed by the excitement of collaborating with thousands of people to complete successful space science missions. " When I was a kid I always assumed that the space business was fairly straightforward and easy, and when I started working 20 years ago, I realized it was a large effort by lots of dedicated people across agencies. The sheer number of people and the magnitude of the effort and number of agencies needed to get the mission accomplished is just staggering," he said.
"My role in reality is a small role but an important role. As mechanics, we're the last people to get our hands on things before the rocket launches, and we have a responsibility to tax payers and team members to do it well. I've been privileged to work with some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic people you'll ever get to work with - especially scientists, when their data comes through it's like kids opening a Christmas present - it's a lot of fun, and the fun is contagious," Danny said.
While he loves his job, there is one thing Danny would trade it for. "The one fantasy of mine is that if I had the opportunity to take a ride [in a spacecraft], I'd take it in a heartbeat. I think everyone who works in this business would take it in a heartbeat," he said.