Whatever subjects interest you in school, study them well. Knowledge is a very powerful tool.
The portions of the Mars Express Mission that interest me most (and perhaps the most challenging portions of my job) are coordinating the diverse activities that are needed to carry out this enterprise, as well as assuring that everybody has the same common base of knowledge about the overall project. This includes interactions across the Atlantic Ocean with The European Space Agency (ESA) and with the Mars Express Instrument Teams, which hail from Germany, Italy, France and Sweden. All of the current Mars missions are truly international, which provides an enhanced ability to conduct them. In many cases, this coordination is easy because the Mars mission teams are composed of truly professional people, who are dedicated to their jobs. The most exciting part of my job has been seeing the launches of the spacecraft associated with the missions that I’ve been involved with.
I was lucky in my youth as I attended a public high school that promoted college preparation. I was lucky again, being able to attend colleges and universities involved with the type of engineering and science studies that led to a career in space exploration. I was at Cornell when the large radio telescope was just coming online, as well as during its first year of operation. That was during the Apollo era, when the radar maps of the moon from Arecibo led to new insights about the moon and its geology. This led, in turn, to a job at JPL associated with the Lunar Sounder Experiment on Apollo 17. Subsequent jobs at JPL were with Seasat-A (the first free world orbital Synthetic Aperture Radar) as well as science coordination jobs associated with the Voyager Project, AIRSAR (JPL’s experimental aircraft radar), and Magellan (the radar imager of Venus). I would never have predicted this while I was in high school or college, but a solid education in those years paved the way for all of the successes I’ve had since then.
I am married to Alicia Thompson, an electron microscopist at the University of Southern California. We have two daughters, Kimberly and Marisa. Our hobbies include biking, hiking, sailing and golf.