What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?
Keep studying and learning! You don't have to be the top person in your class to work at JPL. You just have to be ambitious and have a passion for space exploration. You have to "want" to be successful, respected by your colleagues and be willing to work for it. Above all, keep smiling.
What are your personal goals for the future?
My goal is to contribute and be a part of every Mars mission. I love developing software which then becomes an integral part of talking to the spacecraft. A good 80% of the software developed for a mission is in the Ground Data System. To me, it's the best place to be.
What are your dreams for the future of exploration?
I love Mars, but the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are extremely interesting! We think they might contain salt water, which could contain some of the building blocks of life. Where did we come from? How did our magnificent solar system come to be created? JPL is unique in this area. We have the most experience and know-how to find these answers and answers to questions people haven’t even asked yet!
What portion of this mission interests you the most?
The most interesting part of this job to me is the learning. There is almost never a time when you don’t have to learn something new. Boredom is not an option at JPL. The second most interesting thing is launch preparations and arrival, whether that would be orbit or landing on the surface. And the third most interesting is, of course, the science and discovery.
What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?
The most fascinating part of our job as GDS Software Engineers is solving the daily problems of Flight Operations for multiple missions, while working on the future missions. It’s a lot like learning to juggle with 10 balls. We must be able to keep all ten balls in the air and moving at the same time.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
By far, it is communication and team coordination. If you can imagine the total amount of people and things that must come together to make a mission happen, it is staggering. As the drop-dead dates come closer, it is amazing to see how much work gets done. The intensity and concentration of the people on the project becomes focused on the job at hand and superior things just happen.
What is unique about your job?
There are very few places on earth that do what we do… robotic exploration of deep space! There are very few places where the concentration of the people and sum knowledge of how to get there, exists in one place, like it does here at JPL. If I need to know how to navigate to get to Mars, I can just walk down the hall and talk to Bob Mase, Mission Manager for the Mars Odyssey. If I need to know how to calculate the current time on Mars and correlate that with time here on earth, I can walk to the end of the hall and talk to Boris Semenov who is our resident expert.
What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?
For the Mars Exploration Rovers, the most extraordinary experience has been preparation and rehearsal for surface operations. It’s a huge challenge, and I have been lucky enough to be able to develop some software to make that job easier for the Command Sequence engineers.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A rock star, musician (doesn’t everybody) or work for NASA. I am a drummer and I played in some very good local bands during high school and college. We were successful enough for me to pay for my entrance into Michigan State University.
When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?
It all started in 9th grade in high school. I was totally inspired by NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs. Two friends and I launched our first rockets with live mice. Our goal was to run experiments on the mice to see how rapid acceleration affected their behavior and gain extra credit in Physics and Biology. It worked.
Why do you think Mars Exploration is important?
Science and discovery is what keeps us going. Not just NASA employee’s, but the entire human race. It you think about it, we never sit still. We have always strove to discover new things, whether it was new territories, new medical procedures, new math, or astronomy. Since recorded time we have endeavored to improve our knowledge of everything. Space is no exception. Mars is close and it is so much like earth in many ways. But it did not evolve like earth! Why not? There is much to discover about ourselves there.
What excites you about Mars or about space exploration?
Besides getting there, which is an incredible challenge, it would be the discovery of new and wonderful things. The amazing thing about most of these discoveries, is that it almost always generates more questions that need answers.
Do you work on any other projects at your company?
I teach classes on GDS Integration and Testing. The class is to give people information on the lessons learned in Integration, Testing, and Deployment of a Ground Data System.
Describe the human side of robotic exploration.
It’s all human really. Humans dream, create, plan, build, organize, deploy, and launch every mission. When we get there, humans gather all the science data, analyze it, and make the discoveries.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have lots of hobbies. I am a musician. I began playing drums when I was 12 years old. Then, much to the relief of my neighbors, I took up guitar. I now sing and play guitar with several friends here at JPL. I am also a magician. I became a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA last year. It’s been great fun. I am a rabid off-road fan. I own a 1985 Jeep, which is setup for survival in the roughest terrain. I love trying to follow the 1848 Overland Stagecoach route in the Jacumba Mountains, and touring Baja Mexico. My other passion is soaring. I’m working on my gliders pilots license in a Schweizer 2-33 in Warner Springs, CA. I also snow ski and water ski but don’t roller blade (I almost killed myself) or surf (I almost drowned myself). I also am a PADI Certified diver and have taken many diving trips to the Caribbean and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
During the time I owned my own business I was able to travel extensively. I truly love Kenya and Tanzania, and I highly recommend the travel and safaris that you can experience there. It’s like no other place in Africa. Tourism is welcomed and safe. Mt Kilimanjaro has always fascinated me. I look forward to the day when I can return and climb it.