Artist rendering of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. Credit: NASA
SAR, Profile 

Employee Spotlight: Javier Lecha

By ​Danny Baird

June 20, 2018

In building eight of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, behind a large cube of polished glass, rests a small metal bauble of outsized importance. NASA is no stranger to such trinkets. A cabinet a few feet away contains sundry plaques and statuettes, each celebrating a facet of Goddard’s work.

The tiny gold medal in that glass box holds special meaning though. It’s the crowned jewel of the scientific community: a Nobel Prize for physics.

Javier Lecha, the newest member of the Exploration and Space Communications projects division’s Search and Rescue team, counts that prize among the highlights of his career. He worked on the design of electronic amplifiers for the Differential Microwave Radiometer of the Cosmic Background Explorer, a satellite whose data enabled Dr. John C. Mather, from Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. George Smoot, at the University of California, Berkeley, to share the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics.

“I was honored to work on the COBE Mission, designing and testing the differential microwave detector amplifiers,” said Lecha. “The data generated from COBE ended up validating the big bang theory. The Nobel Prize was just icing on the cake.”

Though a connection to the Nobel Prize is notable, Lecha is no stranger to such awards. He’s received a number of commendations before joining Search and Rescue.

The agency awarded Lecha an exceptional achievement medal for his work developing an antenna pointing system for the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer, a satellite studying spectral phenomena, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, which studied tropical rainfall. These antenna pointing systems were the first of their type and proved many new technologies. Additionally, the technical innovations involved would go on to shape the antenna pointing systems of many future missions.

The International SpaceOps Conference awarded the Landsat 5 anomaly team, of which Lecha was a member, a 2006 award for outstanding achievement. Landsat 5, the fifth in a series of immensely successful terrain-mapping satellites, encountered two potentially mission-ending hardware anomalies. Over six months, the anomaly team resolved these issues, one with satellite downlink communications and the other with its solar array drive. Lecha worked on test procedures to troubleshoot problems with antenna pointing mechanisms leading to the error in downlink communications.

Lecha now lends his talents to the Search and Rescue office, serving as deputy mission manager for national affairs. In this new role, Lecha will foster collaboration and cooperation between U.S. government agencies involved in search and rescue.

NASA’s Search and Rescue office, which develops search and rescue beacon technology and satellite instruments, is just one piece of the larger search and rescue network. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages the region of the network containing the United States. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard organize first responders, directing them to distress beacons and coordinating their efforts.  Lecha will interface with all of these agencies, ensuring that NASA’s SAR office remains a vital part of the equation.

“I have worked at NASA for 35 years,  implementing the latest technology to make advantages in science,” said Lecha. “Now I have the opportunity to work with technology that saves lives. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling!”

Outside of Goddard, Lecha serves as president of the board of directors for Lift A Vet, a non-profit dedicated to assisting veterans and their families worldwide. The organization has recently been involved in efforts to help veterans in Caribbean communities recover from the recent barrage of hurricanes. Lift a Vet personnel are currently on site in Puerto Rico, working with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to transport veterans in need of critical medical services.

Javier also serves on Goddard’s Hispanic Advisory Committee. The committee advises Goddard on initiatives that serve to aid in the recruitment, retention and advancement of Hispanic employees. In addition, he serves on the Goddard’s Standing Awards Committee. This committee communicates awards, encourages nominations, seeks diversity in the workforce, evaluates nominations and assures consistency with awards policy and organizational values.