Follow this link to skip to the main content
National Aeronautics and Space Administration vertical gray line
+ NASA Homepage
NASA's Mars Exploration Program
+ Mars Home
Zip Code Mars
Zip Code Mars Contribution
horizontal gray line

Photo of Kelly Clarke
   Kelly Clarke

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

I found myself not choosing computer science immediately as a major because I had become bored and felt like I had done it all – already. [Now, that is the way a teenager thinks!] There were many more challenges left to be faced, I’d just mentally moved on to more romantic sounding careers – ‘international business lawyer’ – instead of sticking to what I found the most fun. Enjoy what you do, do what you enjoy!

Growing up I thought JPL was an awesome place – I remember Voyager in my youth making it to the outer planets. I was an adult when Pathfinder landed on Mars – but even then I thought JPL was too awesome of a place to want to hire me. A few years later JPL happened to have a career faire and my husband twisted my arm and I went. A couple months later I joined JPL! Even as an adult, I need to remember to try. Just try and see what happens!

What are your personal goals for the future?

I want to travel this world – see the Earth – it’s people, places and things. I also want to have as much fun exploring other worlds through spacecraft! I’m really looking forward to seeing Cassini reach Saturn this coming July (July 1st, 2004) – it has been a long time coming!

What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?

I find it absolutely amazing that every day I come to work, and here I am in a room full of people who are spending their day ‘talking’ to a rover (or two) on the planet of Mars! On that very tiny red dot in the sky! It’s just incredible!

What's the most challenging part of your job?

I find that programming is the easy part. The hard part can be finding the right person to do the right job. That’s why a lot of people come to my group with their problems and questions – if we can’t fix it or answer it – we will find the person who can. JPL is a large place, people can have multiple areas of expertise, and MER has a lot of people working on it, so it can be a challenge some times to find the right person – especially when it is 3 a.m. on a Sunday and you don’t want to just start waking up people to ask… “Are you the right person to fix this?” Luckily, I have not had to wake up anybody yet – there are so many people on duty as most people are living on Mars time.

What is unique about your job?

Some of my job is programming, some of my job is answering questions, and a lot of my job is about making all the “in between” things work. The unique part is that I don’t just write code and say ‘here’ and go on to write more code. Here it’s developed, deployed and used – and I answer questions about code I wrote, and code other people wrote. Yes, there is a lot of specialization at JPL, but for me I span a lot of different areas – which makes it all the more fun!

What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?

My favorite moments were being in the room for Spirit’s EDL (Cruise Mission Support Area) and Spirit’s first pictures from the surface of Mars (Surface Mission Support Area). I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I was in the Surface Mission Support Area when Spirit egressed off the lander and when Opportunity did its EDL… and they all were absolutely amazing. Everyday it seems I’m smiling at the amazing new photos.

Even though lately it has been every day for me, it’s not every day you get to work on something so “out of this world!”

Do you have any hobbies?

content image for personal reflections section
I like to travel (my most recent trip was to Thailand and Cambodia), read, and backpack (California wildernesses).

Kelly Clarke:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections