Associate Mission Operations Specialist (Instrument Operator)

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Thursday, January 3, 2019
Archive Date: 
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Science Engineering
Institution Classification/Type: 
Universities Space Research Association
United States of America
Job Announcement Text: 

The Instrument Operator characterizes and conducts observations with astronomical instruments for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Science (SOFIA) Program. During flight, the Instrument Operator operates the instrument, monitors performance and supports the Instrument Scientist. In preparation for flights, characterizes and tests the Science Instrument (SI) in the lab, ensuring flight readiness; develops observing procedures based on the requirements provided by the observers. On the ground, supports generation of instrument documentation and observation efficiency enhancements.  The Instrument Operator also assists with characterization, calibration and commissioning of the Facility Science Instruments (FSI)s.  Some Education and Public Outreach opportunities such as assisting with outreach to guest observers and the public may be required.

Essential Duties/Responsibilities:

  • Operate the SOFIA Facility Science Instruments (FSIs) in flight. Most flights are based at the Science Operations Center in Palmdale, CA; but also include an annual Southern Hemisphere international deployment and possibly other deployments throughout the year.
  • Execute observations with FSIs in queue observing mode (for the General Observers Community); assist in generation and execution of observing scripts.
  • Assist in the characterization and calibration of the FSIs; monitor and track system performance, track and report on instrument capabilities, anticipate needs and upgrades.
  • Support development of the operations requirements for the instrument(s); support FSI maintenance, testing, and ground operations of Facility Science Instruments; assist in repairs and adjustments as necessary.
  • Technical writing for Instrument Support documentation; maintain Operators Manual for training and reference; as well as assist in generation, formatting and review of instrument related documentation.
  • As time permits:
  • May cross train and fill in for other ground or flight positions within the Mission Operations staff
  • May provide user support to Guest Observers, including preparation for, acquisition of, and reduction of observations taken with Facility Science Instruments (FSI)s
  • May support development and implementation of Commissioning and/or Verification and Validation Plans for new Facility Science Instruments
  • May provide outreach to the science community

Additional Responsibilities:

  • Ensure the protection of NASA and USRA intellectual property with respect to commercial and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) concerns through disclosures, patent applications, and adherence to NASA’s scientific and technical information dissemination guidelines.
  • Support efforts by USRA Management to ensure that USRA conducts its business operations in an effective, cost-competitive, and professional manner
  • Complete required trainings as scheduled.

Required Qualifications:

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


  • BS in physics/astronomy, engineering or a related field


  • Minimum 1 year of experience with astronomical observations at a professional observatory
  • Must be proficient with computer operations in high pressure/stress environments
  • Experience with python, C++, FORTRAN, Perl, or IDL is desired

Licenses, Certifications:

  • Physical Exam - must be completed on an annual basis; i.e. pass a yearly physical examination to be qualified for flight duty, training, and minimum flight rate

Knowledge, Skills & Abilities: 

  • Knowledge of operations of astronomical instruments
  • Working knowledge in the application of software systems in the execution of scientific research
  • Knowledge of instrument hardware, data acquisition software, astronomical data reduction, and instrument commissioning is desired
  • Teamwork and the ability to work effectively with co-workers, customers, and supervisor in a professional and courteous manner
  • Excellent written and verbal communication in English is required
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and its applications
  • Ability to identify, analyze, and address problems using a wide range of analysis and solution strategies
  • Ability to write routine reports and correspondence and speak effectively before groups
  • Ability to define problems, collect data, establish facts, and draw valid conclusions
  • Ability to interpret an extensive variety of technical instructions in and deal with several abstract and concrete variables

Working Conditions:

  • 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 prepared to work night shift operations when scheduled to do so (estimated 60% of the time), and occasional weekend and holiday work.
  • Must be able to complete a set rotation of flights.
  • Work on the SOFIA Program is in a highly visible public setting. There can be no expectation of personal privacy while performing the job.
  • While performing the duties of this job, 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. The employee must be capable of 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.



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