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Photo of Todd Barber
   Todd Barber

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

Follow your passions and your dreams, even if it looks as if jobs may be scarce in that field. If you work hard, you will excel and there will always be your dream job waiting for you- just like mine was waiting for me!

What are your personal goals for the future?

I would love to continue being a propulsion mission operations engineer at JPL until retirement- if I ever decide to retire! I also would like to continue being heavily involved in music, and someday I hope to have a family.

What are your dreams for the future of exploration?

I dream of robots exploring every corner of the solar system, human trips to near-Earth asteroids and Mars, and the first interstellar mission, as well as the discovery of intelligent life on an Earth-like planet orbiting another star.

What portion of this mission interests you the most?

As much as I love working propulsion mission operations, I am most excited about the science results that the MER landers will enable starting in January, 2004.

What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?

I think it's fascinating that we will have a roving field geologist on the surface of another planet for the first time.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Time management! Between work assignments on the Cassini mission to Saturn and MER, as well as a full plate of public outreach, it's very hard to stay on top of everything.

What is unique about your job?

I think that there are very few (if any) places in the world that have opened up the solar system for everyone (not just scientists). JPL is the most exciting and interesting place I can think of in the universe!

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

I think the most special moment I've had while working on the MER mission is seeing the beautiful cruise stage and rovers being assembled at JPL in the Fall of 2002. They were positively breath-taking!

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

I'm not sure I knew then, but I knew it would be in science or engineering. The Viking landers touched down when I was 10, and that was one of the most exciting things I had ever witnessed. I knew JPL was the place for me after seeing pictures of Jupiter and Saturn from Voyager in my grandparents' National Geographic Magazine. I was in 8th grade and was hooked on the thrill of space science for life!

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

After I started MIT, I realized that my childhood experiences with seeing the success of Viking and Voyager were drawing me into aerospace engineering (after an initial desire to be a chemist or chemical engineer). My MIT studies helped confirm for me that JPL was the perfect career destination for me. I had inklings of the uniqueness of JPL during an excellent astronomy class in high school as well.

Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?

I think Mars exploration is important because Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system, it may offer the best place to look for life outside of Earth (in our solar system), and it is certainly the first planet on which humans will leave footprints of unbridled exploration!

What excites you about Mars or about space exploration?

I'm excited about Mars and space exploration because these worlds are next door (by cosmic standards) and yet we know so little about them. Humans are inquisitive explorers by nature, so this career allows me to continue exploring with child-like fascination- every day!

Do you work on any other projects at your company?

I work on the Cassini mission to Saturn as a propulsion engineer, and that's very exciting. I also have done a bit of work for Mars Sample Return mission studies and even a Mars airplane study!

Describe the human side of robotic exploration.

I look at robots as extensions of humans. It is very difficult to send humans around the solar system for the purpose of exploration. At JPL, we enable our robots to be our eyes, ears, hands, noses, taste buds, etc. To me, vicarious solar system exploration is every bit as exciting as actual human exploration.

Do you have any hobbies?

content image for personal reflections section
I am extremely active in music, in composing/arranging, singing, and playing the piano. I sing in a church choir, front the JPL big band called "Big Band Theory" as their boy singer, and I sing in a JPL a cappella quintet, "Chanson." I also enjoy playing basketball, doing public outreach, and amateur astronomy.

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

Follow your heart to find the perfect job. Do what interests you first and then worry later about finding a way to make a living doing it!

Todd Barber:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections