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The countdown to NASA's Jupiter mission is on. This JPL engineer is helping it happen

Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

The Times spent a day with Barajas on the job late last year. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

5 a.m.

Barajas starts his day studying a pile of activity reports from the previous day's work to create a tactical schedule for the mechanical engineers on his team.

Today is a big day for the Europa Clipper team. They'll be testing the craft's thermal pumping system, the last major addition to the spacecraft's vault, a thick-walled aluminum alloy box that holds the spacecraft's "brain": its electronics and computers.

"The thermal pump is the heart of the spacecraft," pumping fluid through tubing to control the craft's temperature, Barajas said. The daylong effort is hazardous because of the high pressure used to test the system with helium, a nonflammable gas.

7 a.m.

 

The Europa Clipper's tall silvery core stands in JPL's Space Assembly Facility in High Bay 1 clean room, surrounded by temporary scaffolding. In a nearby conference room, Barajas represents the mechanical engineering team as he compares notes for the day ahead with colleagues from the electrical engineering and systems teams.

"Some of what we are discussing are small details. It usually isn't a massive revamp of the plan," Barajas said. "It's trying to get everything organized so that we can provide very clear direction when we meet with the rest of the teams at 7:30."

9 a.m.

Before any work on the spacecraft begins, Barajas and his colleagues have to don the white protective coveralls known as bunny suits. Barajas will have to repeat the procedure three times before the day ends.

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