Early Decisions Open Doors
Technical Advisor Urges Next-Generation Support
Influenced by a father who was an engineering professor, a middle-school science teacher with time to answer questions, and a college professor with an offer too good to pass up, Kirt Moser embarked on a scientific career that took him from a Space Shuttle payload researcher to defense contractor employee and finally to the U.S. Air Force. Today Moser serves as technical advisor to the Headquarters Space & Missile Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
An expert in space-systems engineering and space technology, Moser also is passionate about his country and the need to introduce more young people to science education and careers. The world is working hard to catch up with the United States, he says. One of his favorite reference Websites -- www.worldmapper.org -- illustrates the educational and other gains various nations are experiencing. Moser has great confidence in his country and its opportunities for young scientists and engineers. The trick, he says, is making sure these bright young students understand their options.
"We really need to be involved in encouraging young people into science and engineering," Moser says. "If we don't get some of our best young men and women to go into math and sciences, at some time we will eventually find ourselves playing second fiddle to another country in terms of innovation."
Sources of Inspiration
Moser got some early direction in the opportunities in engineering from his father. But it was a middle-school science teacher in Richmond, Utah -- Lynn Archibald -- who helped develop the passion. "He was so excited and enthusiastic about science that it rubbed off on us students," Moser recalls. "During lunch he would sit with the kids and answer questions. The fact that he showed a personal interest in me and had such a genuine enthusiasm for science really influenced me."
As he prepared to graduate from Utah State University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, one of his teachers, a retired Air Force colonel by the name of Frank Redd, asked him if he would stay on as a graduate student, with the carrot being the opportunity to serve as a principal investigator on a program Redd was leading for the then-new space shuttle. There, Moser worked on designing a way to boost the size of experimental payloads that could be launched directly from a shuttle's open bay via getaway canisters. Unfortunately, the Challenger disaster halted the project before the research could move from paper to space.
After leaving the school with a master of science degree in engineering, Moser joined The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., where he worked as a systems engineer in the Air Force's Space Test Program. He subsequently spent several years working as a contractor at both Edwards Air Force Base and Kirtland Air Force Base helping the Air Force Laboratory engineer, integrate, test, and fly space experiments. Eventually he jumped ship, deciding being employed by the Air Force was superior to being an Air Force consultant. "I got tired of writing proposals," he jokes.
What he really enjoyed was the hands-on ability to direct a project and work with the scientists and engineers. "It allowed me to be in a position where I could have a greater influence on the direction that some of the science and technology programs were going, rather than just supporting the direction chosen by someone else," he says.
Hot in Space
At Kirtland Air Force Base Moser directed the 230-person spacecraft-technology division that is spread over 10 major facilities. "I had a very technically diverse program, including technologies for structures, electronics, controls, power systems, and any other spacecraft subsystem you could think of."
Every resource on a spacecraft is limited and precious, says Moser. For example, GPS satellites produce about the same amount of power it takes to operate a hair dryer. Moser's division strived to reduce the size, weight, and power requirements of spacecraft payloads and components to make the most efficient use of this precious resource. "We are very careful when we add weight or something that requires power," Moser says. "All of those can take away from the primary mission."
Moser says he has a sense of awe about the way the scientists and engineers with whom he has worked have supported the next generation.
"We get enthused about reaching down to these kids that don't have the perspective or experience we have attained and about functioning in their lives as the same kind of mentors that influenced us when we were their age," he says. "When we have scientists and engineers holding their hands up and saying they want to help, what they really are saying is they feel indebted to those who did the same thing for them. As the adults of the world, we have not just an opportunity but an obligation to the rising generation to help arm them with the resources and the capacity to be able to carry the day."
Oh, and Moser's dreams of working on a shuttle mission did come true. During the eight-day STS-39 flight he was the primary payload's systems engineer on console at the payload operations center in Houston. "That was the thrill of a lifetime," Moser says. "The opportunity to do stuff like that is built on small decisions you make when you are young. Do I take calculus? Do I take advanced math and physics? You don't realize the doors those decisions will open later. I was very fortunate to have adults and mentors who helped influence my decisions and guided me to take the right classes and to take advantage of the right opportunities and be in the right place."