Space Place Live! with Andre Dress

How can a satellite stay put over the same spot on Earth? Learn from Andre Dress, one of the people in charge of building them. Find out all about the eyes in the sky that give us the big picture of weather on Earth and on the Sun–and why science is harder than science fiction

Start of show

Kate: Hi everybody! Thanks for tuning in to Space Place Live! I'm Kate, and this is Kyo.

Kyo: Hi everyone! Our guest today is Andre Dress. He is here all the way from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Welcome to Space Place Live, Andre!

Andre: Thanks, Kyo. I'm very excited to be on the show.

Kate: So, Andre, what do you do for NASA?

Andre: Well, I am the Deputy Project Manager for some Earth satellites called GOES. I help to get the satellites built and ready to launch. Have you heard of GOES?

Kyo: GOES? Like "Man, that satellite really GOES?"

Andre: Although that sounds great, Kyo, GOES actually stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. GOES are very important weather satellites. They see almost the entire half of the Earth where we live. They also keep an eye on the Sun and warn us of any big solar flares or eruptions that could affect us.

Kyo: Wow! They sure do see a lot! But what does geo-stin-shun-ary mean?

Andre: Geostationary is a kind of Earth orbit. I have something that will help you understand. Kate, do you have that picture that I brought? In a geostationary orbit, the satellite travels around the equator at a very high altitude–around 22,300 miles high! That is the perfect distance from Earth for a satellite to make one orbit in one day. That means that as the Earth rotates on its axis, the satellite seems to hover over the same place on the Earth's surface. This way, the GOES could, for example, continuously watch a hurricane such as Katrina developing out in the Atlantic Ocean and see how big it is and what direction it is heading.

Kate: How many GOES'es are there?

Andre: Two GOES are on duty: one to watch the west side of North America and one to watch the east side. We also have one parked in orbit ready to take over when the older satellite wears out after 5 or 10 years.

Kate: So if they wear out, does that mean you are always building a new one?

Andre: Yes! You're very clever, Kate!

Kate: Thanks!

Kyo: You should hear what the kids at school call her!

Kate: What do they say, Kyo?

Kyo: Uh, nothing. Oh, look at the time! It's time for a commercial. We'll be right back.


Kate: Here we are again, with our special guest Andre Dress. So, Andre, You were saying something about how clever I am?

Andre: Well although you are a very clever girl, I was saying that we are always working to improve the GOES satellites. We design and build a series of 3 to 4 similar satellites, each having all the latest instruments and technologies. As each one is completed, we test it, and when it's ready, we launch it.

Kyo: Wow, I'd like to see that!

Andre: Maybe you can someday. Anyway, after the satellite is in orbit, and we are sure it's working perfectly in space, we turn it over to another government agency called NOAA. And that stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The engineers and scientists at NOAA operate the GOES satellite. That means they send the signals to GOES telling it what to do and receive and receive and record the data the GOES satellite collects. NOAA uses the data from the GOES satellite to predict and study the weather, the atmosphere, and the Sun.

Kyo: Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. But what exactly does a Deputy Project Manager do?

Andre: Well, the project manager and I have three big jobs: First, we need to make sure that the technical work is done correctly. Second, we need to keep track of how much money we spend so that we can finish the job within the amount of money we've been given. And third, we need to make sure that the satellite is ready to be launched on time.

Kyo: Whew! What a big job! What's the most exciting part?

Andre: Well, the launch, of course! Several weeks before launch, the spacecraft is shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida. We NASA managers, plus the GOES engineers and technicians, go to the Cape to test the GOES satellite, mount it on the rocket, and launch it. All the people who will play a part in the launch must rehearse before the big day.

Kate: Why do you have to rehearse a launch?

Andre: Well, if something goes wrong or something unusual happens, that's not the time to wonder about what to do! We have just one chance to get it right, so we need to be ready for anything.

Kyo: Wow, rehearsing! That sounds more like a Hollywood blockbuster movie!

Kate: Yeah, except this is real!

Kyo: So are movies! Aren't they?

Kate: While Kyo makes sense of what's real and what's not, let's take a commercial break.


Kate: And we're back. Andre, you were telling us about the rehearsals for the GOES launch. Do you guys ever get stage fright before the actual show... uh, I mean, launch?

Andre: Well, not stage fright, but we are excited. We know that we have done everything possible to make it a perfect launch. And, so far, so good!

Kyo: Andre, how did you know you wanted to work in the space program?

Andre: Well, when I was a kid, I loved tinkering with things, and I loved science, especially astronomy. I spent many evenings out in my back yard looking into space through my telescope. I was also a big Star Trek fan and I loved to read a lot of science fiction books.

Kyo: I've seen some of those old Star Trek episodes. So when will NASA develop a warp drive so we can visit other star systems?

Kate: There you go again, Kyo, confusing science with science fiction! Don't mind him, Andre. He gets easily confused.

Kyo: I'm not confused. I like science fiction, that's all!

Andre: Well, Kyo's in good company. Many people watch shows like Star Trek and think space travel is easy.

Kyo: Can you give us an example of something in these shows that isn't real?

Andre: OK, here's one. In the real world, if a spaceship explodes or collides with an asteroid, you won't hear a loud blast like you do in the movies. You will hear nothing, because no sound waves can travel through the vacuum of space.

Kyo: A silent explosion? How weird!

Andre: Right. But these shows seem to invent their own laws of physics. We engineers and scientists are stuck with the real laws of physics. That makes space travel a bit more difficult! But, it's still a lot of fun to be a part of a big team of people making it happen.

Kate: You're lucky, Andre. You always knew what you liked to do and wanted to be. What about kids who don't know?

Andre: Hmmm. My advice is to try lots of different things to find out what you like best, then work hard to be the very best you can be at what you like.

Kate: That sounds like great advice. Unfortunately, our time is up. Thanks for coming to see us, Andre.

Andre: Well, thank you for inviting me. I've enjoyed talking to you both.

Kyo: So long, everybody. See you next time.

End of show