Mission Operations Controller (Mission Director)

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Archive Date: 
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Science Management
Institution Classification/Type: 
SOFIA / Universities Space Research Association
United States of America
Job Announcement Text: 

The Mission Operations Controller (MOC) has responsibility for conducting SOFIA’s Science onboard operations.  The MOC becomes the senior Mission Operations Support person on the flight responsible for command and control of overall mission operations and the Observatory’s mission systems.  The MD 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.

Position Summary:

The MOC orchestrates observation activities leading up to, and during Science Missions.  In lead-up to science flights, the MD is in close communication and negotiation with 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 crew brief and debrief before and after each flight, respectively.  The MOC may occasionally fly in the Telescope 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.

The day- and night-time MOCs are cognizant of the issues that are relevant for making the observations, including the needed durations and S/N, water overburden limit, the part of the sky the objects will be in, 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 operator, and on-board investigators, and to make decisions aimed at achieving the goal of maximizing science.  The MOC must be able to provide candidate 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.

Essential Duties/Responsibilities:

To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

Bold = Essential Functions.

  • 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 systems, power distribution, video distribution system and water vapor monitor
  • Coordinate with the Telescope Operator (TO) on TO control and status, especially during takeoff/descent legs and turns
  • Train for and safely carry out abnormal and emergency procedures during flights
  • Monitor the operation and health of the Mission Communications & Control System (MCCS), including configuring software operation as necessary
  • Qualify successful flight hours, in collaboration with Science Teams
  • Maintain the Mission flight log
  • Coordinate with Science Flight Planner on flight progress and Flight Crew on any necessary changes to the plan during flight

Additional Responsibilities:

  • Support the preparations of the Flight Series Schedule
  • Support the preparations of the Mission Plans
  • Accountability for the Flight Dataset recorded
  • Accountability for the Airborne Mission Execution
  • 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 sucessfull
  • 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
  • Teamwork and the ability to work effectively with co-workers, customers, and supervisor in a professional and courteous manner.
  • Complete required trainings as scheduled

Required Qualifications:

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


  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant science or engineering discipline or equivalent experience


  • Ten years of in the field experience preferred
  • Preferred experience includes operations of astronomical observatories and NASA processes and documentation standards
  • Requires proven experience leading small (five to eight person) teams

Licenses, Certifications:

  • Mission Director Certification must be completed within 12 months of start date. This training involves several weeks or months of on the job training with experienced MOCs and/or other SOFIA staff.  
  • There are also several NASA stipulated training classes that must be completed before certification including but not limited to: First Aid, Flight Egress, Fire Extinguisher, Land and Water Survival, Physiological (High Altitude Chamber).  
  • 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: 

  • Demonstrated ability to understand customer requirements and technical constraints
  • Ability to establish development priorities and development schedules, and monitor and report progress
  • Ability to lead and coordinate the efforts of the mission crew and science crew in flight.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication in English is required, fluency in written and spoken German a plus.
  • Ability to read, interpret and follow documents such as safety rules, operating and maintenance instructions, and procedure manuals.
  • Ability to write routine reports and correspondence, speak effectively before groups of customers or employees of organization.
  • Ability to calculate figures and amounts such as discounts, interest, commissions, proportions, percentages, area, circumference, and volume, ability to apply concepts of basic algebra and geometry.
  • 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.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and its applications.

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.
  • MOCs must be prepared to work night shift operations when scheduled to do so (estimated 60% of their time), and occasional weekend and holiday work.
  • MOCs must be able to complete a set rotation of flights.
  • MOCs work on a NASA contract 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 https://usracareers.silkroad.com/ and include a letter of interest, resume, or curriculum vita.  Review of candidates will begin immediately.  Additional information on USRA can be found at www.usra.edu.

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

Application Deadline: 
Monday, September 14, 2020
Selection Deadline: 
Monday, September 14, 2020
Current Status of Position: 
No Status Given (Opted Out)
Apply to Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis
Street Line 1: 
7178 Columbia Gateway Drive
Zip/Postal Code: 
United States of America
Inquiries About Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis