NEIL Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin junior, do they ring a
bell? They were the first humans to walk on the moon, a colossal feat
conducted in 1969 by NASA, the US's national Aeronautical and Space
Since then, NASA has conducted over 150 missions with humans on
board and approximately 40 unmanned missions and yet, Kwatsi Alibaruho
still managed to carve his name in the list of firsts at NASA.
Alibaruho was the lead flight director for the shuttle, Discovery, which went on a 13-day mission into space.
The shuttle, was also the first to travel into space after the
unfortunate space shuttle, Columbia, broke up after re-entry in 2003,
killing all seven astronauts on board.
What a flight director does
"My responsibility is to lead the team of people in mission control
to develop, plan and execute space missions for a space shuttle and for
the international space station," he says.
Alibaruho explains that during the mission, he directs the flow of
activities in space, the configuration of the spacecraft and the
activities of the teams on the ground.
The American-born Alibaruho, whose siblings were born in Uganda,
says he is tasked with managing several dozen people of varying
expertise. Such include flight controllers and engineers.
He says he also workson highly technical problems associated with planning and executing human space missions.
"I like the fact that this position is a highly technical one,"
says the Texas-based avionics graduate who has been a group leader for
the International Space Station Life Support Systems Group.
Alibaruho has also been the deputy chairman of the Orbital Space Plane Source Evaluation Board's operations committee.
Alibaruho on his work
"Working in this profession is a rare opportunity and I want to
excel in this area," says Alibaruho, who is driven by a passion to work
with space and related operations.
Alibaruho is the recipient of the 2001 Rotary National Award for
Space Achievement Stellar Award and was also awarded with the Engineer
of the Year Award in 2001 from the National Technical Association in
Alibaruho says when he first learned about what flight controllers
and flight directors did when he was in university at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), he immediately decided he wanted to
become a flight director.
"I worked for several years to position myself to be selected as a
flight director," says Kwatsi, who was named after his paternal
grandfather, Mukwatsibwoha which in Rukiga is more of a question in the
context of a contest.
It is a question posed by an opponent, "who will help me overcome the strength of this opposing person?"
Advice for Students
"The single biggest enabler for my career has been my education," he says.
"One should pursue the highest quality education available and
always think ahead to position oneself for desirable career
opportunities," adds Alibaruho.
Both his parents are both teachers and have since settled back in Uganda.
His father, George Alibaruho, an economics maven, is now a Bank of
Uganda professor and chair of the department of economics at Kabale
His African-American mother, Gloria Lindsey Alibaruho, is a
retired history professor, who is now an entrepreneur in Aloe Vera
products in Uganda.
"I tend to be somewhat of a workaholic. Whenever given a task or
faced with an assignment, I always work diligently to complete the
tasks," he says.
The flight director adds: "I strive to be excellent in all that I
do, so the quality of my work can stand out and subsequently, avail the
people on my team the best chance to grow and succeed."
While at MIT, Alibaruho did an internship at AT&T, the
largest provider of fixed telephony in the US, as a software developer.
He has also worked as a software developer at MIT's laboratory for computer science.
He did an internship at NASA in Johnson Space Centre and
thereafter, did another internship at Martin Marietta Astrospace
Division in New Jersey.
On graduation, Alibaruho was hired as a flight controller in
the International Space Station Life Support Systems Group of NASA's
Mission Operations Directorate in Texas.
After six years, he was selected as the manager of the life
support systems team for three-and-a-half years, which, after he was
selected as a flight director in February 2005.