Data Management and Instruments and Communication Subsystem Engineer Lead Jessica Regalado

Jessica Regalado

Lead Subsystem Engineer

Jessica Regalado remembers the strangeness and disorientation of her family’s move to Baltimore, Maryland, from Songtan, South Korea, when she was 13 years old. “At first, I could not get adjusted to a new life in the United States. It was very different: the language, people, house, environment — just about everything,” she said. “I remember my sister and I cried every night because we wanted to go back to Korea. My mother, who was a single mom, told us that we were here so we could have an opportunity to make something of ourselves.”

In high school, Jessica’s guidance counselor recognized her talent in math and science and recommended that she pursue a degree in electrical engineering. The summer after high school, Jessica was chosen for an engineering study program that included a visit to Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland. “I remember walking through the Hubble Space Telescope control center and I was really excited about it,” she said. “My heart rate rose and I had butterflies in my stomach. I believe that it was destiny for me to work on Hubble. Needless to say, I jumped at the offer to work on the program.”

Jessica would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore. She has now worked with the Hubble team for over 20 years, and leads the engineering group that provides expertise on Hubble’s main computer system for all phases of telescope operation: routine observations, when something goes wrong, and during the past missions to repair and upgrade the telescope.

As with any computer, Hubble’s computers need to be maintained and upgraded with new software. Jessica’s group is made up of the experts who keep both the main computer and the recorder that stores the images Hubble captures running smoothly. Her group tests the software upgrades before they are sent to the telescope, and issues the commands that update the main computer.

“Spacecraft are all operated from the ground,” Jessica said. “We issue a computer command and make sure that reaches the vehicle. Once it reaches it, we can see the command going through, or the data coming down to the ground.” The process is a little like monitoring car sensors that show what’s happening in the engine, she said — though much more complicated and with much more to see.

One of Jessica’s most exciting memories is from Servicing Mission 3A in 1999, during the replacement of Hubble’s original main computer by the astronauts. “I was four-and-a-half-months pregnant. I was nervous and excited at the same time when we had to power on the new advanced computer,” she said. “As soon as that power-on command was sent, my baby kicked me hard — it was first and only time that I felt his kick. Today my son is proud of me for working on the Hubble project. He knows most people recognize the Hubble Space Telescope and are fascinated by its discoveries.”

Jessica Regalado
Lead Subsystem Engineer Jessica Regalado
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Bill Hrybyk