February 2009

From Dave McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator

Dave McComas

Chelle Reno in Greenland During Graduate School
Chelle Reno in Greenland During Graduate School

January 22 we had a highly successful Transition Review with NASA that marked the end of the design, development, launch, and commissioning portions of our mission and the start of our Nominal Operations. It went so well that we actually received no formal Action Items - a first for our reviews and a real sign of total success. Now, in the operations phase we continue to make science observations as we collect a new swath of our sky maps each roughly week-long orbit. The observations we are getting are fabulous and already we are beginning to see the hidden masterpiece emerge that shows our solar system's interstellar interaction.


With the transition to nominal ops, I wanted to introduce our new Mission Operations Manager (MOM) - Chelle Reno. Chelle has helped us develop and carry out the IBEX operations pretty much from the start and has now taken over the helm to guide the mission through all the various trials and tribulations that arise when operating a real space mission. The picture I've included here shows Chelle standing at the base of a glacier during grad school days. This picture reminds me of when I first hired her – Chelle was still a graduate student and looking for a part time job working in our laboratory. I was having a hard time figuring out what previous hardware experience she had when the conversation turned to her work maintaining magnetometers on the ice sheet. This obviously required a good deal of smarts, independence, and practical knowledge - knowledge that turned out to include things like how to field strip and repair a snowmobile in place as her means to get back to safety. Anyway, she stepped right into making contributions in the lab and evolved from there into developing the operational aspects of our mission. Thanks for stepping in to lead those operations now, Chelle.

Michelle "Chelle" Reno

By Michelle Nichols, Adler Planetarium Educator

Mission Operations Team Members
Mission Operations Team Members

If you are interested in being a Mission Operations Manager (MOM) for a spacecraft mission and pursuing a career in science and technology, there is one thing that you will need to do, according to Michelle Reno: learn to love lots of coffee and Red Bull. The February Monthly Highlight focuses on Chelle, MOM for the IBEX mission.

Chelle (pronounced "shelly") grew up in central suburban New Jersey. She credits her family for keeping her grounded and focused. "My mother is a dedicated worker and very loving person. My father taught me to roll with the punches, and my Aunt Debbie has tried to show me how to have a balance of work & family...I'm still working on that one," Chelle exclaims. What did she want to be when she grew up? "Everything! I liked the idea of walking around in a white lab coat and big coke-bottle glasses. I guess the time I spent in Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI's) clean room working with instruments in the vacuum chamber counts as that!"

Chelle went to Trenton State University for her bachelor's degree. She entered Trenton, a small liberal arts college, with thoughts of becoming a journalist or criminal justice major. "I really changed my mind because these subjects were fairly boring to me, and physics was really difficult. I hated anything that was easy. The feeling of just coasting along in life without really being challenged seems like a waste," she says. Thanks to exposure to many different areas of study, she left Trenton with a degree in physics, minoring in fine arts. "Physics really grabbed my attention because it was challenging, and I am always up for a good challenge. While at Trenton State, I took a semester at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. During my 5 months there, I spent every available moment (and literally every available penny or pence) traveling through Great Britain, Ireland and continental Europe. From that point on I adored travel, which is one of the things that led me to Space Physics.

"When deciding on a grad school I had not yet solidified a specific focus in physics. I was leaning towards elementary particle physics at Florida State or biophysics at Ohio State. Then I received a call from the Atmospheric and Space Science division of the University of Michigan. I was grilled by my future advisor in a conversation that went like this:

Advisor: 'What do you know about the magnetosphere?'
Chelle: 'Ummm'
Advisor: 'What do you know about magnetohydrodynamic codes?'
Chelle: 'Ummm'
Advisor: 'Can you dig?'
Chelle: 'Well, yeah, I can dig.' 

"And so my space career started. He had an arctic field work project, where, for a couple of weeks every summer, students went to Greenland and maintained magnetometer sites on the ice cap (a.k.a. did lots of digging, debugging, and on-the-fly MacGuyver-like electronics fixes, using whatever you brought with you to the ice cap). I was field season coordinator for 3 years, got my masters in applied physics, then went to SwRI."

At SwRI, Chelle is the Mission Operations Manager for Nominal Operations, the part of the mission dedicated to collecting data on-orbit. She says, "The team & I have been working diligently around the clock to finish up 'Commissioning', the part of the mission where you turn the spacecraft and instrument on slowly and tune parameters to ensure the best data collection possible. I was the on-console payload lead, and led the execution of the tests on the instruments that the payload team designed." Chelle loves working with the great IBEX scientists, engineers, and operations folks at many different institutions around the world. "Once we launched on October 19, 2008, the majority of my time was spent in Dulles, Virginia at the Mission Operations Center for a few months. It was very exciting, but I think I speak for most of the team when I say am happy to transition from the hectic schedules of Launch & Early Operations into the more steady pace of Nominal Operations."

When Chelle is not traveling to IBEX mission-related locations, she loves to play soccer, paint, and work on the house she and her fiancè, Joe, bought last year. "I still love to play guitar and sing, and I look forward to taking more of an advantage of the Austin, Texas live music scene."

Chelle has a common feeling about advising students and others about pursuing a space career, but she has a unique way of stating it: "Science is not as hard as people make it sound. You just need to stick with it and you can learn to say long words like 'magnetohydrodynamics', and even know what they mean. Space is cool! And if space isn't your thing, there is a whole department at SwRI dedicated to blowing things up, putting them back together and then blowing them up again. You won't get that at business school!"

The IBEX mission is lucky that Chelle chose space over business - it sounds like she is having a lot more fun working with IBEX!