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   David Smyth

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

Learn that hard work leads to achievement, and that leads to happiness. The toughest problems are the most fun!

Nobody knows everything. Be honest with yourself, and others. Learn from others. Strive to be effective on a team, where each contributes all they can, while allowing others to do the same. Learn about human culture: economics, business, history, anthropology. It's a science experiment that has been going on for a long time. Gain sufficient knowledge to obtain insight, not just facts. Then you can apply that insight to many scientific and engineering endevors.

What are your personal goals for the future?

To keep learning to live the dream.

What are your dreams for the future of exploration?

To be able to generate sufficient on-board power to access and excavate challenging sites on Mars, Europa, and Titan.

What portion of this mission interests you the most?

Enabling diverse planetary scientists to collaborate on discoveries.

What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?

That we are actually exploring: we are interacting directly with the surface and environment of Mars. That we see what nobody has ever seen, and discover -- as it happens.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Pulling myself away from the fascinating and deep technical challenges to enjoy time with family and friends.

What is unique about your job?

We get to focus on making software that works.

We get to solve software technology problems that other have had to work around for decades.

What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?

Driving to work with the full moon rising high overhead, and realizing that I am on my way to work on Mars!

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A designer; of boats, cars, airplanes, computers, clothes, and companies.

When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?

I was born at the dawn of the Space Age. One of my favorite books was "You Will Go to the Moon." So I've always had a lot of interest in space exploration.

When I was starting my junior year at UC Irvine, I landed a job working on the Space Shuttle flight software. I took over a problematic software system, mostly re-wrote it to eliminate a long list of problems, and delivered it just barely on time for the first launch. This code, called System Management and Special Processing, is the code that runs all the time on every mission, and has been responsible for safely preventing the launch on several occasions, correctly detecting problems from among the vast majority of on-board systems.

A few years later, after starting a few companies, developing a lot of commercial software, and then taking a year off to sail a Swan 65 from California to Spain, I decided that I wanted to apply my software technical abilities to the advancement of mankind. The "final frontier" is truly space. So I contacted JPL, interviewed, and was hired because of my deep and extensive experience with diverse software technologies, management, and team structures.

Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?

On the surface of Mars, we are exploring far back into time. Its like a time machine.

What excites you about Mars or about space exploration?

That some day people will be able to travel and migrate to other worlds.

Do you work on any other projects at your company?

Many... I try to help people image new possibilities, and to navigate from what they know to what they can discover.

Describe the human side of robotic exploration.

This requires a large number of people to work together, to learn to respect different ways of living, working, and thinking, and to collaborate to achieve more than any one of us could achieve on our own.

Do you have any hobbies?

Boating, both power and sail. I enjoy racing yachts particularly in Hawaii. Traveling, particularly with my wife.

David Smyth:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections