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Ward Yohe, an analyst in Operations & Maintenance at UW Medical Center, has always been passionate about space. He vividly remembers sitting in class watching the first shuttle mission in 1981 and still has all his newspaper clippings from the early flights. “Yeah, I’m a space geek,” he laughs.

For the past 13 years, Yohe (pronounced like Joey with a “Y”) has shared his passion with the world by volunteering in his spare time as a Solar System Ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The program selects devoted volunteers to give presentations to teach kids and adults about NASA’s space exploration missions and get them excited about solar system exploration.

“I’ve given this presentation to almost 10,000 people, and every single time I’m still overwhelmed by what I’m presenting. I mean, the distances! The light from the closest star took four years to get here, and when you look at the night sky, you’re looking hundreds of thousands of years in the past.”

Thank-you notes

While it’s the scale and scope of the universe that Yohe finds riveting, you never know exactly what a particular group is going to be captivated by. Once he presented to a group of second graders who were fascinated by space shuttle safety. “What if there’s a leak in the door in the airlock?” they asked. And, “Well, what if there’s just a little bit of a leak in the door in the airlock?” Yohe smiles at the memory. “They were a bunch of future OSHA inspectors!”

As passionate as Yohe is about space, he is equally enthusiastic about his work at UWMC. “If I could pick any position at any job anywhere in the world, this would be it. I get to work with data, I get to work with infrastructure. I think about seismic resiliency all the time and backup plans and all those core utilities. I love the stuff that no one sees. The stuff where if we’re doing our job well, no one knows about it.”

Yohe is quick to point out the parallels between space exploration and taking care of patients, especially in the neonatal intensive care unit, which he has a soft spot for.  “You need teamwork, attention to detail, a culture where everyone can raise concerns, cross-checks, processes, respecting everyone’s vital contribution — lots of things to make it all work.” In the NICU, caregivers and support staff all labor together toward the common cause of keeping those tiny, fragile babies alive and well and ensuring that every stage of their voyage is a success.

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