Tracy Drain - NASA Engineer 

About Tracy Drain

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Tracy Drain is a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Her projects are out of this world -- literally! Tracy has helped design, test, and analyze spacecraft that are orbiting Mars and are on their way to Jupiter. She hopes to someday contribute to a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.

Join us for four live events with Tracy on Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 10:30am, 1:30pm, 4:30pm, and 6:30pm Eastern. Each program will last approximately 45 minutes. You'll have a chance to learn about the physics that Tracy has had to master to succeed in her job, find out about the career path she followed to become a mechanical engineer, ask her questions, and respond to polls, all live! You can also upload a video to show us how you'd solve a spacecraft design challenge that Tracy created specifically for this event.

Learn More About Tracy Drain & Her Work

NASA's Juno Mission

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission

JASON Project interview with Tracy

JASON Project video featuring Tracy

Tracy's NASA bio page

About the Live Event

Tune in on Thursday, May 31st for any of the day's four live webcasts at 10:30am, 1:30pm, 4:30pm & 6:30pm Eastern. Each program will last approximately 45 minutes. During the shows you'll learn about Tracy Drain and have the chance to submit text questions and answer interactive polls. In addition, you can submit video questions and video challenge responses before the event. Schools submitting video questions increase the odds of their questions being used during the event.

Video Question & Challenge Submission Guidelines

  • We will accept video question and challenge submissions until Friday, May 25.
  • Make sure that video questions relate to the featured expert and their work, and that video challenges submissions respond to the challenge we've posed.
  • Ensure that your video is well-lit and the audio is free of background noise.
  • Have the student close to the camera and microphone to ensure they can be heard.
  • If recording with a phone or mobile device it is preferred to shoot in landscape (horizontal) orientation.
  • Please record only one question per video clip. You can submit as many clips as you like!
  • If students want to mention their name and location, they should state only their first name and the state or country they are from. Students are not required to provide their name or location in the videos -- they can simply ask their question.
  • Unfortunately we cannot use all the video questions we receive. The more creative and interesting you are, the better your chances of being selected!

Each student submitting a video question or challenge response must also email or fax a permission form with a parent or guardian's signature. Download student permission form.


A Challenge for You!

One challenge engineers like Tracy face every time they design a new spacecraft is how to provide power to all of the components and systems that it requires to operate and perform its mission. Computers, radio transmitters and receivers, motors, valves, data storage devices, instruments, sensors, and other devices all need power to do their job!

Here's your challenge:
What kind of power system would you use for a spacecraft going to Jupiter?

Be sure to tell us why you picked the power system you chose. Bonus points for including a model or drawing of your solution! (And by "bonus points" we mean "more likely to be featured in the webcast!")

Some things to keep in mind!

  • How much power might the spacecraft require? (Compare to past missions)
  • The main types of power systems that have been used on space missions in the past have been solar and nuclear
  • How far is Jupiter from the sun, and what does that mean about the amount of sunlight available?
  • How big would solar arrays need to be to generate enough power to run the spacecraft's systems and instruments?
  • How many nuclear generators (RTGs) might be needed to supply enough power?
  • Are any specific pros/cons of using solar vs. nuclear power that would make one more desirable than the other?
  • Are there other power systems that you think should be considered?

Helpful resources