“From the minute I walked in, I was handed the Vision Processing Unit (VPU) project for the Orion spacecraft program. We had just been awarded the work so as a new systems engineer, I was put on the project and I got to see it evolve from the beginning.”
The Orion spacecraft is NASA’s multi-purpose crew vehicle – designed for human exploration of deep space.
“Right now, the long-term plan for Orion is to one day transport astronauts to Mars and return them safely back to Earth. But, first, Orion needs to test all of its systems in what NASA calls the ‘proving ground’ of space. The first mission in the proving ground is a 3-week long, unmanned trip beyond the moon. This would help verify Orion’s systems before it begins carrying a crew. The next mission would also occur in the vicinity of the moon, but this time it would be crewed. Those are the missions we are developing our two boxes for. Our boxes are going to be predominantly used for data storage, as a backup flight computer.”
Marie was thrilled to announce the progress that’s been made:
“We have two boxes with processing and memory cards in them, and we are just about ready to deliver the second one.”
As Marie reflected on her journey at SEAKR so far, she commented that she learned a lot and was fortunate to have the opportunity to grow alongside the Orion VPU boxes.
“I learned what makes up the design, how to test it, and how to prepare it for what the customer is going to do with it in space. Ultimately, that is one of the coolest parts of working here: the things that you develop, they are used in space! How cool is that?” exclaimed Marie.
Not only did Marie welcome a new challenge into her life when she joined SEAKR, but she was also getting ready to welcome a new life. Within the year, Marie gave birth to her first child, a baby boy.
“I was actually hired when I was almost four months pregnant. I was on maternity leave within the first year of even being here – yet I was able to stay on the same project, which was really awesome.”
A year later, Marie was pregnant again.
“My manager was more than accommodating, and I knew that when I came back I wasn’t going to be overly stressed juggling two kids and two boxes. It was – and definitely still is – a challenge. Sometimes our jobs put us in strange hours – like coming in on a night shift to run thermal tests. The company and my team definitely work with me on making things easy. In a job like this – that is high-tech with strict deadlines – that can be hard to come by.”
When asked what’s in store for her next, Marie said:
“At this point, there is a chance for me to work on multiple projects. We also have contracts that will hopefully be awarded soon, so that will spur the discussion with my manager on whether I want to take on a new project or work on multiple projects.”
As Marie sends two boxes off, the product of years of hard work and dedication, there is no doubt that Marie Derr is not only an engineer, but a mother of four.