February 2008
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Billie Silvey
An Elder in Space
I’m a member of the Culver Palms Church of Christ here
in Los Angeles.  It’s a relatively large congregation for an
urban church in what’s essentially still a mission area.  
Culver Palms incorporates a remarkably talented and diverse
group of people.  Regular readers of this website have been
introduced to some of them.  This month’s topic, together
with the nearby aerospace industry and UCLA, brought a
wealth of resources.

Two of our seven elders have a special interest in space.  
Fred Ricker, from the Space Technology Sector of
Northrop/Grumman, takes a scientific, technological
approach, while Ron Lau, a UCLA graduate in mathematics,
who has the rather esoteric hobby of studying astrophysics,
takes a mathematical, theoretical approach.

Each is married and has two children, a boy and a girl.  Both
bring vital talents to the church.  Fred applied his engineering
skills to guiding the construction of our building, and Ron
conceived and guides our very successful outreach ministry to
Chinese immigrants, especially students at UCLA.  I asked
Fred the following questions:

Q: What is your occupation or interest relative to Space?
A:  My occupation is in the field of unmanned space
systems.  I have received a formal education in electrical
engineering.  I work for the Space Technology sector of
Northrop Grumman.  During my 30+ years there, I have
worked on NASA space systems (such as the Tracking and
Data Relay Satellite System, Earth Observation System, and
the James Webb Space Telescope) and military space
systems (such as Military Strategic and Tactical Relay satellite
system, Advance Extremely High Frequency satellite system,
Defense Support Program, Strategic Tracking and
Surveillance System),  NOAA space systems (National Polar-
orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System,
Geosynchronous Operational Environmental Satellite system),
and others.  All of these are satellite-based systems with
corresponding ground-based facilities for command and
control.  Some of these systems are communications satellite
systems.  Some of them have sensors for making scientific
and/or surveillance observations; these do additional
computational processing of the collected mission data.

Q:  How did you get involved in that effort?
A:  My interest in Space goes back to my youth (grade
school and middle school), when I read science fiction novels
and watched space programs on TV and in the movie
theaters.  The primary motivator for my selection of an
occupation in space was the movie “2001 A Space
Odysseyâ€� by Stanley Kubrick.  I was captivated by the
portrayal of future technology and its capabilities.

Q:  What are some developments that you’ve witnessed
in the field?
A:  Some developments I have witnessed in the field are: the
introduction of sophisticated computers to satellites which can
be reprogrammed from the ground, greatly improved satellite
autonomy (less reliance on around-the-clock ground control),
the insertion of technology improvements that give satellite
systems much improved capabilities in communications and
observation sensitivity, the improved longevity of spacecraft
from a few years of uninterrupted service in the early 1960s
to over 15 years of uninterrupted service today, and the
growth in size and mass of unmanned spacecraft by factors of
100 and more.  I have also witnessed the massive growth in
the number of orbiting space objects, making it necessary for
other systems to track these objects and avoid collisions with
them.  I have witnessed the use of space for commercial
applications as well as government applications.  I have
witnessed the global use of space by many countries; many
are capable of building space systems and even more have
purchased space systems.  And I have witnessed the increase
in knowledge and understanding of our universe and the earth
with the help of the “great observatory� spacecraft built
for NASA, and the environmental sensing spacecraft that
provide weather forecast data, space environment
measurements, and long-term climatic measurements.

Q:  What directions do you see the field going?
A:  I see the field continuing to expand, in terms of the range
of space system capability  from simple / inexpensive to
complex / expensive.  There will be more international  
players as space suppliers, and there will be continued
attempts to expand the use of space for commercial
applications.  And while space has been a somewhat safe
environment in the past, safe from external threats that could
adversely affect a satellite’s mission or even destroy it,
there will be more serious considerations given and actions
taken to protect some satellite systems from such threats.

Q:  How does your interest in Space impact your faith, your
relationship with God, and your relationship with others (as an
elder in the church)?
A:  My interest in Space has given me a healthy respect for
nature, from the enormity of the observable cosmos to the
barely-detectable subatomic particles.  I have been amazed
by the order of things in this universe.  I will continue to enjoy
my remaining time on this earth attempting to understand Godâ
€™s creation.  I think of God when I learn about new
scientific discoveries, and I think about the things I know in
nature when I study the Bible.

But my interests go beyond science and engineering.  I am
very interested in the story of God and mankind; how God
has established a relationship with us, given us free will, and
continues to be patient with us as we continually stumble and
fall.  I am often puzzled and confused by parts of this story,
and I still find it hard to comprehend all aspects of the Trinity.  
While these sound like abstract interests, I do have a faith that
is based on my understanding of God’s Word, and I do
act on my faith.  My work in the area of Space brings me in
contact with a diverse group of people, and I am mindful to
practice my Christian behaviors at all times.  When presented
with an opportunity to share my admiration for God’s
creation and His ways, I will respond accordingly.  I also
think my interest in Space has motivated me to develop my
gifts for organizing, planning and problem-solving.  I apply
these gifts to the work I do as an elder.  It is my prayer that
these gifts are beneficial to the work of the congregation at
Culver Palms.

Fred lives with his wife of 25 years, Jenny, and his son
Collin who is a Junior in high school.  His daughter,
Kelsey, is attending her freshman year at Seattle Pacific
University.  In addition to working for Northrop
Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, Fred is
also an elder at the Culver Palms Church of Christ, and a
Regent of Pepperdine University.
History of Cosmology
Where Is God?