Manager, Mission Operations Controller (Mission Director Manager)

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Thursday, January 3, 2019
Archive Date: 
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Scientific/Technical Staff
Institution Classification/Type: 
Universities Space Research Association
United States of America
Job Announcement Text: 

The Mission Operations Controller (MOC) Manager manages the MOC staff and activities within the SOFIA project. The MOC orchestrates observation activities leading up to, and during Science Missions on SOFIA.  The MOC is the senior Mission Operations crew member onboard the flight responsible for command and control of the overall Mission Plan and the Observatory’s mission systems.  The MOC directs the overall mission operations, has responsibility for safety of the Mission areas (i.e., flight attendant duties) and has control of some key observatory systems that directly support science.

In lead-up to science flights, the MOC is in close communication and negotiation with SOFIA Science Center support scientists and science investigators, as well as other members of the Mission Crew (including Science Flight Planners and Telescope Operators).  The MOC works with the science team to support investigators and/or organize observations to be done in service observing (a.k.a. “queue”) mode. In preparation for a flight series the MOC is responsible for putting together and executing the Mission Plan, mission log during the flight or ground operation, flash reports following a flight or ground operation, schedule and timeline of a series, and running the mission brief and debrief before and after each flight.

The MOCs are cognizant of the issues that are relevant for making each observation, including the needed durations and S/N, water overburden limit, object sky location, the needed calibrations and calibrator objects, and guide star availability.  The MOC must be able to quantify and communicate changing flight conditions and observatory status to the flight crew, telescope and instrument operators, and on-board investigators, and to make decisions aimed at achieving the goal of maximizing science objectives.  In flight the MOC must be able to provide candidate flight plans to resolve issues that enable more science and to communicate candidate plans to the Flight Crew.  The MOC also coordinates with flight deck on heading turner operation, personnel access to SI and SI racks and the overall status of the mission systems.  Finally, the MOC is also charged as a liaison between all groups on board SOFIA during a mission, cognizant of their goals, and enabling them to make the best use of their flight experience.

The MOC may occasionally fly in the Telescope or Instrument Operator position to allow the opportunity to remain current and fluent with the technical development of the Telescope Assembly, Mission Command and Control System and Science Instrument interface to the observatory.

Essential Duties/Responsibilities:

  • Lead and manage activities for MOC department
  • Oversee, monitor, and perform the day-to-day MD activities including but not limited to: flight, DOF, MOPS Reviews, flight prep, post-flight reporting and follow-up
  • Develop and maintain personnel shift schedules for flight activities in accordance with the approved annual observatory schedule
  • Represent the MOC group to the Mission Operations team as well as the larger SOFIA team when required
  • Report up on MOC activities and issues; prepare weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reports related to status / results
  • Determine training practices, standard processes and procedures, and roles for developing a strong and robust team
  • Ensure MOC related manuals, processes, and procedures are developed and maintained/updated as necessary
  • Coordinate implementation of training plan for new staff, as well as refresher/currency training
  • Understand overall Mission Operations vision and goals; maintain MOC portion of overall Mission Operations task schedule, ensuring appropriate staffing for all activities and that they fall under Core or approved IDIQ contracts and are in compliance with NASA and USRA standards
  • Oversee MOC related Discrepancy Reports (DRs) and Configuration Change Requests (CCRs): attend Observatory Configuration Control Board (OCCB) meetings, write / comment / track relevant DRs and CCRs, schedule staff as appropriate to address DRs and CCRs
  • Assess and adjust to changing situations, identify and implement innovative solutions to make improvements as needed

Participate in the day-to-day MD activities:

  • Support and ensure development of executable Mission Plans
  • Accountable for the Science Mission Plan execution in flight; in collaboration with Science Teams, maximize successful flight hours
  • In coordination with Aircraft Operations, control and monitor key SOFIA mission systems used by the mission crew and investigators, including the cavity door, gate valve, cryogenic and vacuum systems, power distribution, video distribution system, and water vapor monitor
  • Coordinate with the Telescope Operator and Science Instrument Operator on control and status of telescope and science instrument, especially during takeoff/descent legs and turns/setup
  • Coordinate with Science Flight Planner on flight progress and Flight Crew on any necessary changes to the plan during flight
  • Train for and safely carry out normal, abnormal and emergency procedures during flights
  • Act as host to various on-board guests, including VIPs, Guest Observers (GOs), media, engineers and other technical experts, and teachers; to help ensure their flight goals are successful
  • Monitor the operation and health of the Mission Communications & Control System (MCCS); including adjustment of plans to operate within limits
  • Ensure Science and Engineering flight datasets are recorded real-time; then safely copied and stored at the end of flight
  • Maintain the Mission Flight Log and produce Mission Flash Report

Staff management:

  • Complete all administrative tasks in a timely manner: timecards, leave requests, EA/ER approvals, etc.
  • Participate in appropriate management and project/program meetings
  • Recruit and hire diverse staff who add value and achieve organization goals
  • Lead / manage staff to set and achieve department objectives
  • Communicate pertinent information to staff in a timely manner to ensure staff have a clear understanding of organizational goals and desired results through regular meetings and email
  • Create a work environment that encourages creative thinking, collaboration, maintains program focus, and produces results
  • Provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others to their full potential
  • Facilitate collaboration, cooperation, teamwork and support constructive resolution of conflict
  • Direct, monitor and evaluate the work of employees, providing performance feedback and development opportunities and intervening to correct performance problems.

Additional Duties:

  • Participate in observation planning and instrument commissioning
  • Provide input to design of telescope and mission systems user interfaces
  • Support test of mission system and telescope software and hardware
  • Complete required trainings as scheduled
  • As time allows, may cross train and fill in for other flight or ground positions within the Mission Operations group

Required Qualifications:

  • Must be qualified for a U.S. Government Public Trust clearance.


  • Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent in science, engineering, astronomy, or computer science is preferred, or equivalent experience / certification
  • Knowledge of software and hardware systems, UNIX, TCL, C, Java or Perl a plus


  • 3+ years of experience on SOFIA, including at least 1 year within the SOFIA MOS department, including leadership experience
  • 5-7 years operations experience at a major observatory very advantageous
  • Possess working knowledge of astronomical instruments and optical and/or infrared observing techniques

Licenses, Certifications:

  • Incumbents must pass an annual physical examination to be qualified for flight duty, training, and minimum flight rate.

Knowledge, Skills & Abilities: 

  • MOC Skills: Demonstrated proficiency in essential Mission Director tasks.
  • Analytical Skills: Excellent analytical and abstract reasoning skills.
  • Planning and Organization: Demonstrated track record of setting and meeting goals. Strong process improvement, decision making, organization, planning and implementation skills.  Strong organizational skills with an ability to balance competing demands. Ability to set priorities, analyze and resolve problems, and make decisions in a timely fashion.
  • People Management: Ability to lead, influence and motivate individuals and teams. 
  • Interpersonal Skills / Communications: An effective communicator at all levels in the organization, with strong oral and written skills and a willingness to share information.  A collaborative and flexible style. Excellent written and oral communication skills – write routine reports and correspondence, speak effectively before groups of co-workers or customers. Demonstrated leadership ability, team management, and interpersonal skills.
  • Teamwork: Ability to work with a diverse group of scientists, engineers, technicians, administrators, and managers.
  • Computer/Technical Skills: High level computer skills, including above average knowledge of the Microsoft Office applications. Ability to read and understand/interpret technical manuals such as policy and safety rules, operating and maintenance manuals, process and procedure manuals.

Working Conditions:

  • The employee must be capable and proficient at performing all duties in a technical/scientific setting including offices, laboratories, shops, and aircraft maintenance facilities as well as on the aircraft/observatory, both while on the ground and during flights. Must be proficient at working in time critical and/or high pressure/stress environments.
  • The employee may occasionally be exposed to fumes or airborne particles. The employee may be exposed to moving equipment, vehicles and mechanical parts.  The noise level in the work office environment is typically mild.  The environment on the aircraft during flight operations may become noisy, cold, and tiring.
  • While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to stand, walk, sit, and use hands. Keyboarding for large time spans each day will be a significant part of this position.  The employee may need to lift and/or move up to 50 pounds. 
  • Must be able to complete a set rotation of flights, and be prepared to work night shift operations when scheduled to do so (estimated 60% of the time), and occasional weekend and holiday work.
  • Work on the SOFIA Program is in a highly visible public setting. There can be no expectation of personal privacy while performing the job.


  • Domestic and international travel (up to 3 months for international deployment. Up to 30% travel.


Applicants should apply to the posting at and include a letter of interest, resume, or curriculum vita.  Review of candidates will begin immediately.  Additional information on USRA can be found at

USRA is an Equal Opportunity Employer Minorities/Females/Protected Veterans/Disabled/Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity

Application Deadline: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Selection Deadline: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Current Status of Position: 
Position Filled
Apply to Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis
Sr. Recruiter
Zip/Postal Code: 
United States of America
Inquiries About Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis