photo of Susan Keener '94

Alpha-Mawrter

Susan Keener ’94 is a DAE who DiHSP.

That is Mission Control speak for Determined Aeronautical Engineer who Dances in Her Spare Time.

Keener has undertaken the rigorous training to become a flight controller at United Space Alliance in Houston, which manages space shuttle operations for NASA. And despite her arduous schedule, she finds time to study and perform traditional middle Eastern, Indian and West African dancing.

As a flight controller, Keener will specialize in the electrical power system (EPS) on the International Space Station (ISS). "EPS interfaces with all the other systems on the space station, so we have to know a little bit about all of them," she says. It will be another two years before she is fully certified.

Learning acronyms is a major part of Keener’s training; she likens it to "learning a new language." PHALCONs—Power, Heating, Articulation and Lighting Control Officers—are the EPS controllers in the Blue FCR, pronounced "ficker," for Flight Control Room. POWER flight controllers support the MPSR, pronounced "mipser," for Multi-Purpose Support Room. "I will certify first as a POWER flight controller," explains Keener, "then eventually as a PHALCON."

She also participates in simulated activities (sims), learning all the different work stations and software used in Mission Control and "the protocol of how you interact with the other flight controllers when you’re plugged into the flight loops." When not training, Keener supports the engineers on the ground, testing electrical systems and software and writing EPS procedures for flight controllers and astronauts in orbit. She focuses on international EPS concerns and anticipates working in the Russian Mission Control Center in Moscow next year.

In light of her work’s international scope, Keener cherishes her liberal arts background. "Both the technical/scientific and the cultural/liberal arts aspects of my BMC education really helped me," she says. "There are people from all different countries working with the International Space Station. You really need to have some perspective on other cultures, other things besides the technical aspects." One way she gets that perspective is through her major pastime, folk and ethnic dancing, which she says goes back to her long-standing interest in anthropology, ethnography and other cultures.

Space, too, has been a long-standing interest for Keener. She still holds onto a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. "There are a lot of flight controllers who would like to get the chance to go up into space," she says. "But if it doesn’t happen, at least Iwill be helping make it happen for other people, helping them get to space. That will be cool. It is really amazing to be here in the center of activity for human spaceflight. Many of the meetings I support include engineers as well as astronauts. I have gotten the chance to meet a few of the astronauts and will work with many more of them throughout my career here."

Keener holds a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Previously, she worked for the Space Telescope Science Institute, evaluating data from telescopes and assisting astronomers.

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