Alumni News

  AUGUST 2003






 

FOUAD CHIHA REACHES FOR THE STARS

For most of us, a long distance call means talking to friends in San Francisco or New York. For Fouad Chiha it means communicating with spacecraft.

Chiha, who attended Mission College from 1997-99 before earning his B.A. in electrical and computer engineering from Cal Poly, Pomona, is an engineer with NASA/JPL’s Spacecraft Transmitter Systems Group. As such, he helps design the hardware for the telecommunication systems that makes possible communication between spacecraft and deep space.

He’s currently helping to develop an instrument called a "traveling wave tube amplifier" which takes a signal and "amplifies" it so that it can reach satellites, rovers and other craft in space. When two recently launched Mars rovers arrive at the red planet sometime after the new year, Chiha’s team will play an important role in making sure the inter-planetary communications are working well.

Chiha’s other projects are more Earth-bound. They involve telecommunications with satellites that bounce signals off the oceans, mapping their surfaces and elevation levels to better forecast the weather and predict El Niño occurrences. Still, it’s the space signals that most capture his imagination.

"I may be sitting here, but I know that the reach of my hand is in space," he said. "It’s reaching beyond the moon and in another three months, it will touch Mars. And it will keep going, no matter what happens to me."

Chiha compares his work to the technology that makes it possible to talk to nearly anyone on Earth.

"It’s very easy to make a phone call, say, to the Middle East," he said. "The hard part, the challenge, was figuring out how to make it possible – and that’s what I do, except that the call is to deep space."

Chiha expects to receive a Master’s degree in telecommunication systems from Cal Poly within the next several months and hopes eventually to earn a doctorate. He holds fond memories of his years at Mission College, recalling that he spoke no English when he began – but used the international languages of math and science to move forward.

"I had a really beautiful experience at Mission College," he said. "It was the basis of my education. My instructors spent lots of time with me. I hope to teach part-time there some time."

BY EDUARDO PARDO  /  
Photos: Juan Chacon