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Filipina Is NASA's FirstWoman Mission Operations Manager

Asian Journal, News Feature, AJ Presss Posted: Mar 02, 2010

A group of satellites, named the A-Train, orbits the Earth on the same track and at the same mean equatorial altitude of 705 km. This formation of international, Earth-observing satellites is also known as the Afternoon Constellation, because they cross the equator within a few minutes of one another at around 1:30pm. By combining the different sets of nearly simultaneous observations, scientists are able to gain a better understanding of its main mission--studying the important parameters related to climate change. As an additional benefit, the A-Train satellites provide unique information about tropical cyclones, the collective term for tropical depressions, tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons.

Providing key leadership to these satellite missions is Angelita Albano Castro-Kelly, who currently holds a dual role as the Earth Observing System (EOS) Science Interface Manager and the International Earth Science Constellation Team Manager at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland. Kelly also holds the distinction of being the first woman and first Filipino NASA Mission Operations Manager (MOM) for a major flight project.

As the Science Interface Manager, Kelly continues to interface with the domestic and international Earth Science community to ensure that they are satisfied with the science data from the EOS satellites and that their science goals and objectives are being met.

Kellys role as the International Earth Science Constellation Team Manager is a very challenging one. For the past two years, she has been working with space personnel from other NASA centers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), the US Air Force (Albuquerque, New Mexico), universities, and the French Space Agency, the Centre National dEtudes Spatiales (CNES) negotiating agreements on how the various organizations will work together on-orbit as one constellation mission. In November 2004, due in large part to Kellys leadership and persistence, the six constellation science and mission teams reached agreement and signed the "Afternoon Constellation Operations Coordination Plan".

"Since the satellites are flying very close (separated by seconds) to each other, it is imperative that the missions cooperate and coordinate their on-orbit operations to ensure the safety of all the satellites in the constellation," said Kelly, who is known as Angie to her family and friends.

Born in Jones, Isabela, Philippines, Angelita Albano Castro comes from a distinguished family in the Philippines. She is the youngest of the six children of Eufemia Lagasca Albano, a pharmacist, and Dr. Miguel A. Castro, a medical doctor and a Captain in the US Armed Forces in the Far East, who was killed in action in WWII. Both her grandfathers, Don Antonio Albano and Don Macario Castro, served as Mayor of Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Her late brother, Pacifico A. Castro, was former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Canada, Belgium, and Jordan, and Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another brother is Atty. Joselito A. Castro, formerly Commercial Counselor to Canada, Argentina, and Switzerland, and Commissioner General of the Philippine participation in the 1982 Worlds Fair, Tennessee, USA. Other siblings are Dr. Miguel Castro Jr, Dr. Milagros C. Morelos and Erlinda C. Jacobo, all living in Maryland.

Angie graduated Summa cum Laude from the University of Santo Tomas in 1962 with a degree of BS in Mathematics and Physics. She did graduate work in Physics (MS) at the University of Maryland, and over the years, took up several courses in Project Management, systems engineering, computer science, software management, spacecraft design and analysis, and supervisory management..

"I came to the USA with my Mom in 1962, when I was 19, to pursue graduate studies in Physics. I planned to go back to the Philippines and be a professor at UST. However, I met and married Dr. Francis J. Kelly, Ph.D., a physicist," recalled Angie. Francis, a Magna cum laude graduate of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, is "the scientist in the family", Angie said. Francis and Angie have three children-Maria Angelita, Francis Joseph, Jr., and John Michael.

Kelly joined NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland 14 months after she had her 3rd child. "I was fascinated with space -the stars and the planets, and astronauts- and thought that it would be nice to learn more about it. Before I went to work for NASA, my idea of NASA was so narrow--I only thought about rocket ships (John Glenns Friendship 7 had been on a visit to Manila the year that I left for the US). After I started working at the Goddard Space Flight Center, I learned about the depth and breadth of the space endeavor--the diversity of scientific and engineering disciplines, and the many opportunities to contribute to the space program, not just the more popular manned missions," explained Angie.

"When I joined NASA, I started as a member of one of the contractor teams that support many of NASAs programs. I learned on the job about satellites and how they are used by scientists to further their knowledge about the sun, the Earth, and outer space. Having a background in Math and Physics definitely helped," Angie admitted.

Citing Robert Kennedys famous line which became one of her favorite sayings, ""Some men see things as they are and ask, "Why?"; I dream things that never were and say, "Why not?", Angie fearlessly conquered the "mans world" in NASA, which she considers one of her major achievements in her professional life.

"In those days, I was often the only woman on the team so I had to prove that I could perform as well, if not, better than the male members of the team," recalled Angie of her early days. "Work-wise, I think the best achievement for me was being able to be recognized and be successful in what started out as very much a "mans world". I was the only female for many years on some of the teams that I worked with. (Today, there are many women working in NASA). I have also had a lot of satisfaction in being able to represent NASA in dealing with our International Partners and at international meetings and conferences," said Kelly.

Believing that "faith can move mountains", Angie Kelly has provided over 30 years of outstanding service at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Goddard Space Flight Center. She has achieved supervisory and management positions in NASAs highly visible projects. She began her 12-year association with the Space Shuttle Manned Flight Missions as a member of the development team that designed and implemented GSFCs Spacelab Data Processing Facility (SLDPF). Mrs. Kelly demonstrated exemplary leadership and technical expertise as the SLDPF Project Manager. She gained national as well as international recognition and respect, the latter through her successful and effective cooperation on the Spacelab missions with NASAs International Partners in Germany and Japan.

In 1990, Angie was asked to be the Mission Operations Manager (MOM) for the Earth Observing System (EOS) Project, the centerpiece of NASAs "Earth Science Enterprise" program. As the EOS MOM, she was responsible for developing the overall EOS Mission Operations Concept, which served as a basis for all the EOS missions. She interfaced with the science and instrument teams for the 3 missions, including the international partners in Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Her contributions to the space program have been recognized with yearly performance recognition awards and several of NASAs prestigious and coveted awards, including: the 2007 NASA Honor Award and Exceptional Achievement Medal, the 2006 Goddard Space Flight Center Exceptional Service Award, the Manned Flight Program Launch Honoree Award, the GSFC Exceptional Performance Award, and the unique Astronauts Manned Flight "Snoopy" award. In 2007, she also accepted the NASA Honor Group Achievement Award for the Constellation Mission Operations Working Group which she chairs.

Other prestigious awards include: the 1993 Presidential Award, "Pamana ng Bayan" for Science and Technology given by then President Fidel Ramos in Malacanang Palace, and the 1993 Alumni Award for Science and Technology from her alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas. A couple of years ago, she was awarded as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the US. Mrs. Kelly has presented many papers at international conferences and has published in technical journals. She has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles, NASA films, and television programs about women in the technical fields at NASA.

"Whatever success I have today is from God, who gave me the grace of a Catholic education, and who gave me a wonderful mother, brothers, and sisters, and a loving husband--they have all been very supportive, and have inspired me to have a successful career. I specially give credit to my Mom and my supportive husband. I dont think I could have felt good about going to work everyday if my Mom hadnt been with me to help take care of the children," says Angie who has this advice "for the women who want to have careers - you must not lose sight of whats important and set your priorities accordingly. I myself took time off to have our 3 children before going to work for NASA, and I have no regrets."

When not busy supervising satellites in outer space, Kelly spends time "with my grandchildren (4 boys and 6 girls); watch game shows (Jeopardy) and my favorite basketball team (Duke University and Maryland); read, surf on the internet/email; go to plays. I sometimes attend activities of the "Katipunan", a Filipino-American association in Baltimore (my sister is very active with the group)."

Kelly's favorite foods are mangoes, lanzones, pansit, adobo, kare-kare, and pinakbet. When in the Philippines, ( she has not been home since 2001), she likes going to Baguio and dining at Maxs, Jollibee, Kamayan, and Aristocrat.

Kelly has this advice for her kababayans who want to achieve the American Dream. "Get a good education, stay true to the Filipino values (God, family, honesty, hard work), be flexible (one door leads to another door), and never forget to pray! Prayer, hard work, and determination ("can do" attitude) will help you achieve success. Take God with you whatever you do and wherever you go. Trust in Him--He will guide you to places you have not even dreamt about today," shared Angie Kelly, who through Gods help, was even able to conquer outer space. (AJPress)

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