What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?
You will hear this a lot, but make sure you do something you love doing. Being successful in life takes hard work, a good sense of humor, sweat and tears. If you love what you do, the hard work seems like play so it isn't so bad. I think this is a truth whether you want to be a rock star or a rocket scientist. No matter what field you want to get into, no one will lay out a welcome mat and do the work for you... you have to really want it in order to make opportunities come your way and make a name for yourself.
If you really put your mind to something, you can make it happen, and when you love doing it, it is much easier to put your mind to it!
What are your personal goals for the future?
Continuing to work on space exploration but also finding more time for my wife and son (14 months old now). I'd say the hardest part of working on flight missions is striking the right balance between working on something you throw your heart and soul into, spending time with the people that are most important to you and nurturing relationships that you want to last, and finding time for your self. If someone could learn how to squeeze 48 hrs into a day I'd pay a lot of money for that...
What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?
Realizing this thing is actually going to land and that I will be helping to make history by exploring the surface of another planet with two very capable rovers. Recently (December 2003) this has really hit me... for example, one morning I woke up to the thought "holy-cow, the commands we are working on right now are actually going to cause a machine millions of miles away on the surface of another world do things that will increase the knowledge of the whole world". Definately cliche, but it still causes me to pause every once in while and take a deep breath.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut most of the time... sometimes other ideas crept up, but space was mostly it. I got my 4th grade class to work on an idea for a space station when NASA asked for ideas back in 1982. I used to day-dream about the folks from battlestar galacta taking me away to join them on their mission. Certified space-geek for way too long!
When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?
when I was about 9 years old. My mom got me a book about space colonies by Nigel Calder of Princeton University and that pretty much cemented my fascination with space and space exploration.
A key point in my education that let me go on to getting an aerospace engineering degree was getting a D on my first Algebra test in 8th grade. It was the worst grade I had ever gotten and it really served to kick me in the rear to do better in school. I decided that, hey, if I am going to spend 6-7 hours a day for 9-months out of each year of my life until I was 18 (and older) in school, I might as well really make the most of it. I had always liked learning, but I was struggling with math to some extent until that point. But for whatever reason that event kind of really made me want knowledge more than ever. The mental switch from having math forced on me to actually wanting to learn it made it much easier to absorb and I did much better in all my future classes. Without that change in attitude I would not have been able to get into UCLA and get my degree.
Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?
Humans are designed to explore. It is what a large fraction of our species is wired to do. Do new things, find new worlds, figure out how things work. Not exploring space (or the oceans, or other unknown parts of our world) would run counter to our very makeup.
I think space is the future "new world". It is a lot harder to get to than America was back in the 1400's, but never-the-less it represents similar challenges and opportunies. A place where over time we can learn to live, to try to organize new societies and experiment with new and better forms of government.
What excites you about Mars or about space exploration?
Pretty much everything. The cool science, the challenging engineering, doing things no one else has done before, working with other motivated and smart people on a common goal.
Do you work on any other projects at your company?
Not really. We like to say the Mars Exploration Rover mission is the project that doesn't sleep. The schedule has been so tight from the get-go that working on MER is generally more than a full-time job by itself.
Do you have any hobbies?
Mountain biking, hiking, backbacking, swimming, sprint distance tri-atholons (when family and work allow training time), reading fantasy and science fiction, sailing, learning about nature, history, military history and tactics, planetary science, ... I have a hard time understanding people who get bored with life or can't figure out what to do when they retire ;-)