What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?
Lots of other people will give you good advice about staying in school, working hard, and so on. I'll second that, but I'll also add something you might not have thought of: read good books, and learn to write well.
Reading is important because it broadens your mind, and because good books, like great art of any kind, improve your sense of beauty and structure -- which is a lot more important to science and engineering than you might think!
Writing is important because you will need to communicate your ideas to others, and because clear writing requires clear thinking. I'm often surprised by how easy it is to spot a dumb idea once I've written it down in clear prose.
What are your personal goals for the future?
I'm doing what I always wanted to do, so I guess my goal is to stay right here!
What are your dreams for the future of exploration?
People on other planets. If not me, then you.
What is unique about your job?
In many software development jobs, you never meet your users. I work with my software's users every day -- indeed, I'm one of them myself -- which helps me make better decisions about what the software will need to do. It also means that when I get something wrong, I'm sure to hear about it!
As for the rover-driving part of my job -- well, the uniqueness of that part speaks for itself.
What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?
I often think of one of our early tests, when the software wasn't yet ready and our processes weren't well understood. I wasn't sure we had a chance of accomplishing anything that day. But our fledgling team managed to work around all of the problems, staying focused and doing whatever it took to get the job done. By the time our deadline came, we had our commands ready to go.
This experience made it clear to me, more than anything had previously, that I work with amazingly smart and talented people; and that it's ultimately the people, not the technology, that make a mission work. I'd heard others say that before, but this was the first time that I saw what it meant.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut. Considering that I'll be driving a Mars rover (albeit from Earth), I think I came pretty close.
When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?
When I was a kid, we had this tiny twelve-inch black-and-white TV with a yellow plastic case. That little TV expanded to the size of the universe as I watched Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series on PBS, as well as news stories about JPL's Voyager missions. I was already interested in space, but previously, I'd thought of space exploration as something abstract, more science fiction than science fact. But Voyager was undeniably real -- people were actually doing this. That planted the seed.
Years later, when a JPL recruiter came to my graduate school, I was so excited that I didn't even bother interviewing anywhere else. (In retrospect, I guess that wasn't very wise! But it worked out.)
Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?
In the near and medium term, exploring Mars helps us understand the Earth. In the long term, exploring Mars may pave the way for colonization.
Do you have any hobbies?
I'm about halfway to my black belt in aikido (a martial art related to judo).
And I like to read: lately, I've been reading a lot of classic Greek literature, such as "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," but I'm taking a break from that to read some Dickens (I'm currently reading "Nicholas Nickleby"). Shakespeare and Twain are perennial favorites.
I have a feeling I won't be doing much more aikido or reading until MER is over, though.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
I'm a cancer survivor: I had Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1992. Never give up.