Becky Emerle

Few can claim they’ve helped prepare NASA astronauts for successful spacewalks. But for Senior Engineer Becky Emerle, working hand-in-hand with the Space Shuttle STS-125 astronauts was a common occurrence before the crew launched into space to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Working with the astronauts – and actually the entire [Hubble] Advanced Camera for Surveys – Repair (ACS-R) – has been my favorite and most rewarding accomplishment so far,” said Emerle, who was awarded the Women in Aerospace Achievement Award for her groundbreaking Hubble Space Telescope work and for being a role model for women in the industry.

Emerle led a Ball Aerospace team of more than 40 engineers to design, build and test the ACS-R flight power supply electronics in less than 12 months so the new hardware could get one of Hubble’s main instruments functioning fully again.

Remaining flexible and able to respond instantly to surprises were the key to her success while leading the ACS-R project – a program that under a normal timeline would have taken three or more years to complete.

Deemed impossible by some, Emerle faced the challenge head-on. “Our team didn’t like hearing things couldn’t be done,” she said, “We just asked ‘why not?’ and found a solution to any challenge that came our way.”

“The entire Hubble program was made up of innovative thinkers. Hearing ‘no’ just motivated us more.”

The Ball and NASA team was inspired by Emerle’s enthusiasm and energy. They lauded her clear thinking and drive to penetrate the details, never leaving a chance for potential issues to surface.

Specifically, because the ACS repair was set to be done during spacewalks, Emerle and her team considered how the new hardware could be made more astronaut-friendly during installation on orbit.

She invented a new solution to bypass the inoperable ACS hardware and helped develop the repair hardware and tools necessary for the astronauts to replace it. Her team assisted in training simulations, in which the astronauts relied on Emerle and the team for solutions and the team relied on the astronauts for feedback, creating a unique and symbiotic relationship. She even supported ACS hardware installation in the Space Shuttle.

The repair hardware Emerle helped develop “worked flawlessly” according to the Hubble astronauts who came to Ball Aerospace to thank employees for being a part of their success on orbit.

Emerle’s work with the legendary Hubble telescope began in 2004 with the robotics servicing program. Her engineering skills and calm demeanor while under pressure made her the natural choice for leading Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) optical instrument repair program.

Emerle’s team’s efforts resulted in a newly designed STIS power supply that proved to be more robust than the original, and NASA was so impressed with her efforts, she was asked to serve as systems engineer for the ACS-R project.

Now that both repair programs are complete, Emerle’s contribution to Hubble has come full circle. Her insight, innovation, and expert creativity helped bring STIS and ACS back into operation, gaining the telescope another seven-plus years of useful life.

Reflecting on the programs, she admitted the hard work and long hours, but “just because things are hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue them.”

That’s advice she’d like to pass along. Emerle is a role model who has volunteered at elementary school career days, inspiring young girls to pursue science and technical careers. She has also raced in the annual Multiple Sclerosis MS150 bicycle tour and participated in a triathlon to raise money for Pennies for Peace, an organization that builds schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Being challenged leads to more self confidence,” she said. “And the skills you can learn by pursuing an engineering degree – where you are solving problems every day – can be used throughout your life.”


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