Meet the IBEX Team: Sheral Wesley
IBEX is in orbit! The Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft launched on Sunday, October 19, 2008 - celebrated by hundreds at the launch party and online through the launch webcast and Twitter feed. It was extremely exciting and nerve-wracking, but even more so for mission P.I. Dave McComas and the launch team inside Mission Operations Center Three (MOC3) at Orbital Sciences in Dulles, Virginia. This month's Highlight interviewee is Sheral Wesley, an IBEX Flight Director and member of the mission operations team.
Sheral Wesley proclaims herself to have been a typical "tomboy" growing up as the oldest of three siblings in Appomattox, Virginia, a rural town of fewer than 12,000 people. She had many different interests when she was a child, including Girl Scouts, the school marching band, softball, volleyball, basketball and cheerleading - but her pursuits didn't stop there. She found herself "always competing with the guys," which even included playing football. In high school, she excelled in college preparatory classes such as physics, chemistry, and biology and graduated with an Advanced Studies Diploma. When she was young, she thought nursing was to be her chosen career, but it was a decidedly different path that she took that would eventually lead her to wrangling the IBEX spacecraft.
After high school, Sheral joined the United States Marine Corps and traveled to many different places around the world, such as Australia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Norway, Scotland, and Japan. She remained in the Corps for eleven years, reaching the rank of sergeant and working as a structural and hydraulic/pneumatic mechanic on Marine Corps F-18 aircraft and the Navy's P-3, C-20, F-14, C-130 and EA6B aircraft. She became a maintenance instructor training Marine Corps and Navy reservists while stationed at NAF Washington in Clinton, MD. She also ran the day crew in her Airframe Division and the Navy's Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Division (500 Division). She earned certification in Low Power/APU aircraft engine turns, Collateral Duty Inspector and in Maintenance Control duties. She was tasked with keeping aircraft repair bulletins, aircraft data books and daily/special flight operations of 12 aircraft fighters, 100 maintenance personnel and re-wrote the NAF Washington Tire/Wheel safety procedures. She received a medical discharge in 1998 and, with her diverse aircraft and operational background, came to Orbital Sciences as the Lead Technician for Operations for the X-34 reusable rocket program.
While at Orbital, Sheral has worked on other programs such as the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) mission, the TSX-5 (Tri Service Experiment) research satellite, the Multiple Paths, Beyond-Line-of-Sight Communications (MUBLCOM) satellite, the Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) satellite, and the AMC-21 communications satellite. While working on GALEX, she heard about an opening for the IBEX mission team and signed on. She works as a flight controller, a night shift flight director, and mission planner for the IBEX mission.
The IBEX launch on October 19 was exciting for everyone in MOC3. The spacecraft was built and designed to work autonomously, and during launch, Sheral was in mission control monitoring the health of the spacecraft and making sure data was being transmitted and received successfully. Even before the Pegasus rocket containing IBEX began to make its way to space, she found herself following the L-1011 aircraft checklist even more than the IBEX spacecraft checklist, thanks to her significant aircraft background. She even helped to explain the goings-on of the L-1011 timeline to others in MOC3. Sheral was recently made a Flight Director and was on console during the first Apogee Maneuver Burn which raised the altitude of spacecraft perigee, which is the point at which IBEX is closest to Earth. She called it "baptism by fire" and was nervous, but got through it with flying colors... and she never let anyone see her sweat!
At times, Sheral finds it difficult to explain her unique job to others, especially to friends and family back home in Appomattox. Once people ask what it is that she does for a living, she is quick to add, "No, I can't get you free satellite TV". A typical day for Sheral involves planning spacecraft communication contacts for the following days and compiling paperwork for spacecraft contacts for the overall mission database. Indeed, when she was young, she had no idea such professions even existed, but being in the military showed her a wide variety of available occupations. Growing up a tomboy and continuing through jobs that usually have a higher proportion of males to females, she sees herself as always "trying to break into the boys club", from sports competitions when she was younger, through her military career, and into her current duties and tasks for spacecraft missions. Sheral thrives and achieves in such situations, though. She sees herself as possessing a "thick skin" to be able to get through all of her experiences successfully. Her parents have always pushed her to do her best, though, and she credits them as having the most positive influence on her career.
In her spare time, Sheral likes to do home projects, and works within the local Marine Corps League detachment in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She is also very active as a booster parent for her daughter's high school sports teams and has a son in college studying to be a Landscape Architect with a minor in Design.
Sheral is looking forward to working on the rest of IBEX's primary two-year mission and learning more about being a mission flight director. She hopes to work on other spacecraft missions if the opportunities come her way. What does the future hold for the space program, according to Sheral? "IBEX is on the cutting edge of technology. I expect that what has been and will be learned from designing the IBEX mission will be used for future missions - especially lunar missions," she exclaims. It is certain that the IBEX mission will help pave the way for future spaceflight opportunities, and Sheral Wesley is playing an integral part on the IBEX team. Go IBEX!