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TAKING CHARGE: Diana Valverde, an electrical engineer, oversees the control systems for the thruster. During a test run, she checks the temperatures of the materials, the RF power levels, and keeps an eye on the pressure in the chamber. "I turn on the magnets and the gas injection system, and then finally hit the pulse," Valverde says. A pulse can last for a few seconds or run for several hours, depending on the experiment.