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Photo of Michael ('Mike') Malin
   Michael ('Mike') Malin

What's the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is thinking up new instruments for future missions. There is tremendous competition to provide instruments for up-coming spaceflights, and the things that limit what we can do (size, weight, power, and cost), added to the intensity of the competition, add to the challenge.

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

I decided to work in a space-related field when I was very young. Exactly when I cannot remember, but I clipped articles from newspapers that described rocket flights several years before the first satellites were orbited (when I was 5 or 6 years old). Throughout my education, I studied as much science as I could, in class, by going to the public library and reading, and by visiting the Griffith Park Planetarium (in Los Angeles, where I grew up). I continued to keep a scrapbook of newpaper and magazine articles until I went to college. At first, I wanted to be an astrophysicist (a combination of astronomer and physicist), but in college I became interested in the geology of other planets, and pursued that direction of study. During my undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkely (I received a bachelors of arts degree in physics, with a minor in English literature), I worked for two professors who were studying samples brought back from the Moon, and when I went to graduate school (at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena), I worked with a professor who was part of the Mariner 9 camera team and the leader of the Mariner 10 camera team. After I graduated with my Ph.D. (in Geology and Planetary Science), I worked for four years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I was able to participate in both the Viking and Voyager missions in a support role. I left JPL in the late 1970's, when the space program entered a period of reduced spaceflights, and taught geology at Arizona State University in Tempe. There I broadened my research experience by collaborating with other scientists who studied the Earth rather than other planets, and I began research programs studying volcanoes (I was at Mount St. Helens within a month of its major eruption in 1980), water erosion processes in deserts (in parts of Arizona and Utah, and in Iceland), and wind erosion (in Iceland and Antarctica). All of these research topics are relevant to Mars, which remained the planet in which I was most interested, although I also conducted planetary science studies of Venus, Mercury, the Moon, and the satellites of Jupiter during this period.

Do you have any hobbies?

content image for personal reflections section
There is a real danger in having a job that is as much fun as mine: I am "addicted" to my work. I don't have any hobbies, since my job lets me do many things I might otherwise do as a hobby (for example, I make computer animations and go hiking and camping). I do enjoy fly fishing and sailing, but haven't figured out a way to relate this to my work (yet!).

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

When I was young, I promised myself that I would never work at a job that wasn't fun. I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to keep this promise. The best thing about my work is that it involves so many different things- things like writing, speaking, traveling, studying, hiking and camping. If I get bored or frustrated with any given job, I can put it aside for a while and work on something else. Often I can work on several things at the same time. And all are fun. The thing I like the least about my job is that there is so much work to do that I can't do it all myself. I have had to learn to let other people do things instead of me. I don't like this since usually it was something I wanted to do myself. Working with a team is much harder than working alone. However, teams can do much more than individuals, and so the rewards can be much greater when everyone works well together. And it can be fun having others with whom you can share ideas and experiences.

Michael ('Mike') Malin:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections