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Raytheon Engineer Becomes Earth's Photographer

Blue Marble project captured by the VIIRS sensor. Image courtesy of NASA.

On an otherwise typical morning on vacation at his parents' apartment, Raytheon engineer, Steve H., walked over to the table to grab the morning edition of the New York Times.

"This is what I work on!" he said, holding a page of the paper up to his family to show them the colorful, swirling image of Hurricane Sandy that dominated the grey and black print.

The image was taken by VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), a sensor on NASA's Suomi NPP satellite that is becoming a critical tool for weather forecasters, oceanographers and other scientists who study Earth. Steve is part of a team that built the sensor package.

Steve H., Chief Engineer at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems at work in El Segundo, Calif.

"People are always complaining about the weatherman." Steve said. "And lately, weather forecasting seems like it's getting better, and they don't know why. This is because of space-based weather sensors like VIIRS. Every day, forecasters get an entire second look at Earth from space."

The son of a nuclear physicist and a chemist, Steve's genealogy reveals a familial love of science. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and came to work for Hughes Aircraft Company in 1981. Hughes was purchased by Raytheon in 1998.

As an engineer, Steve has worked on numerous programs over the years. "You don't wake up, go to work and think, "This is going to be cool.' You're just doing your day job." he said.

However, with an explosion of publicity surrounding NASA's 2012 release of a prominent trio of unprecedented views of Earth from space: Blue Marble, White Marble and Black Marble, the VIIRS program and its team of engineers experienced a new sense of pride and recognition for their work.

Unfolding his paper that morning, Steve remembers pondering the history of space photography. He recalled how people were fascinated when Apollo 8 took the first picture of Earth rising above the face of the moon. "I still remember what a revelation it was," Steve said.

Sensing capability like the kind used to capture the trio of marbles leverages more than 40 years' legacy of space-based imaging technology developed by Raytheon, and many of its legacy team members continue to innovate on the VIIRS program.

"There is so much new talent on the VIIRS team." Steve said, "But this is really a program where job title is not that important everyone is contributing: those with 32 years of experience like me and those whose talents are just being discovered."

Even with his 32 years, Steve never thought he'd be what's known by Raytheon employees as a "lifer." "But people kept giving me chances." For a lot of us, we're successful because someone gave us that chance. I never would've expected I'd stay here my full career, but I'm really happy."

Last Updated: 11/10/2014

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