|Zip Code Mars Contribution
What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?
Study, study, study. Take the hard classes. If you don't know it, that's fine -- but ask to find out! Nerds are only sorry to be nerds when they're young, for as they get older, they find they get to do the really "cool" things.
What are your personal goals for the future?
To actually catch my kids!
What are your dreams for the future of exploration?
Someday, I'd like to see people go to live on Mars. That would be a good start. It's unrealistic to think that I'll be able to go, but perhaps that opportunity will be available to my children. To that end, I'm trying to do my part.
What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?
The most fascinating thing to me is that I'm actually a part of THE Mars Exploration Program. The things that I do enable Mars missions to succeed. It is so cool to be able to download the latest pictures from the web and to say to myself, "Hey, I helped make that picture possible!"
What is unique about your job?
How many people do you know who actually operate Martian spacecraft? That's pretty unique.
What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?
I had been working on Mars Odyssey for several months back in 2001. It had just performed Mars Orbital Insertion and we were proceeding with aerobraking using software that I had developed. One of the onboard instruments, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), was commanded to take a picture of Mars while its orbit was still pretty large and it could get a nice global view. When that picture was downloaded to Earth, it was quickly processed by the THEMIS team and distributed to the operations team. I was sitting at my desk when the email came in and I opened it. Before my eyes was the first picture of Mars that was taken by the Mars 2001 Orbiter -- the first Martian spacecraft I would have a hand in. I was one of the first people to see it, and I felt so deeply satisfied to know that I had helped to make it possible. It was truly a magical moment for me.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first record that I've been able to find that shows what I wanted to be when I grew up was a picture that I had drawn in the first grade of a man wearing a white coat and standing next to a workbench, working with equipment and black boxes. Overtop was written in my youthful scrawl the word "Scientist". It wasn't until later that I learned that what I really should have written was "Engineer". Based upon all the pictures I drew when I was in elementary school of airplanes and spaceships, it's a good guess that what I really should have written was "Aerospace Engineer".
When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?
I graduated from a high school in the relatively small town of Tooele, UT, in 1992, having done well enough and with a keen desire to be part of the space program. I perceived space to be something really "cool", and I wanted to be part of it. With little idea how to accomplish that, I began looking at various universities across the country that had space programs. Interestingly enough, I soon discovered that the one that best matched my needs was the fairly local school of Utah State University (USU).
Once at USU, I took every class I could on spacecraft design, the space environment, gas dynamics, rocket propulsion, you-name-it. USU didn't offer a degree in Aerospace Engineering, but if it had, I probably would have far exceeded the requirements for it. So, I ended up with both a B.S. and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, finishing up in the spring of 1999 -- without knowing the first thing about internal combustion engines, but an awful lot about how to move things between the planets in our solar system.
But just like most new graduates, I wasn't really sure which company I wanted to work with after graduation. I knew that NASA was probably the hot place to be, but suspected that the private industry was where I would end up. I narrowed my search by deciding once and for all that I wanted to work in the Mars program, and learned that there were really only two places in the whole world where I could be a part of that -- the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA; and Lockheed Martin Astronautics (LMA) in Denver, CO, which was subcontracting to JPL on the Mars missions. Both were far from home, but my adventurous spirit wiped away my fear (much to the concern of my wife) and I applied to both places.
I soon discovered that LMA wasn't hiring and so I put more emphasis on pursuing JPL (amongst a few other companies I was investigating). I ended up being interviewed several months before graduation after unwittingly handing my resume to a member of JPL's higher management at a conference in December of 1998. Once I interviewed, I knew it was the place I wanted to be and, gratefully, the (negotiable) job offer came my way. There were a few bumps getting started, but now, several years later, my expectations about how "cool" it is to be part of the Mars program have not been disillusioned.
Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?
There is something innately human about the need to simply KNOW things. We also have a need to go to new places and to experience new things for ourselves. Mars Exploration is a symptom of these needs. If we fail to explore, then we fail to exhibit some of the finest qualities of being truly human.
Describe the human side of robotic exploration.
When we open a door to a windowless room, and find the room dark before us, our first inclination is to turn on a light, that we may know what is in the room. Robotic exploration is our light into the dark rooms of our universe, illuminating the things before us that we may correctly choose which rooms to enter, and on which ones to close the door. But simply turning on the lights in all the rooms in a house does little good, if nobody ever goes into the rooms. All we do is waste time and energy, and we never truly make the most of our house.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have no hobbies. Unless you count children-chasing as a hobby. That's pretty much all I do when I'm not at work - I chase my kids.