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   Charles White

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

Don’t let the grading system used in schools to hold you back. Teachers want to teach and they don’t want you to fail, regardless of what you might think. If you really want to learn, then take the time to talk to the teacher. Teachers are inspired by students that want to learn and would rather help a “D” student that wants to learn vs. a “D” student that would rather play video games.

What are your personal goals for the future?

My personal goal is to continue to be part of the amazing cutting edge excitement that working at JPL provides. It is my personal belief that space missions can be run affordably and efficiently using common best business practices, yet, keeping projects on cost can be a challenge.

What are your dreams for the future of exploration?

I’m not an explorer… I’m more like a cook on the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria. Just one of the staff members that get to tag along with the heroes you see on CNN. However, being a cook, I get to see how the crew interacts and I get to see the science first hand.

What portion of this mission interests you the most?

Mars is intriguing. Venus is too hot, Earth just right, and Mars too cold, yet Mars is possibly the only alternative home for humankind. What happened to Mars? How did it loose its seas of water? How did it evolve? All these are questions that our Mars Missions are answering for me, and for all of us.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is to convince all my flight team members that there are no villains. Everyone is doing their jobs - from the flight team, to the visiting students, to the procurement folks, to the management that provides funding, to the software vendors providing the software… all are doing their jobs. However, getting funding, even for such important mission critical tools, is a challenge.

What is unique about your job?

My job is unique because it is very specialized. I try to explain what I do at social parties and people just can’t understand. So I simply say “I do computers” and then they start asking me questions about their computer problems. Sigh.

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

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I think the most extraordinary moment for me was standing next to the 70-meter Goldstone Deep Space Network antenna as it was actively receiving information from the Spirit Rover. The software I manage was being used at the station for signal analysis, and back at JPL for image processing and power consumption requirements, yet there I stood posing for a picture. I felt good knowing that in my very small way I was helping the project by simply doing my job at JPL. I now believe there are no small roles in space exploration.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an Airline Pilot. I didn't get to be that, but after high school I did study very hard and got my Private Pilot's license and for a brief time I was an Air Traffic Controller and enjoyed being around the Airport. After I joined JPL, I wanted to be a Shuttle Astronaut and I even had the application in my hand, but never had the nerve to submit it to NASA.

When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?

As a young adult, I watched the Television show, Cosmos, by Dr. Carl Sagan and that TV show inspired me to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory because I wanted to be a part of what I call the “Golden Age of Planetary Exploration." In my lifetime, we will have visited - by our robotic probes - all the planets in this Solar System, and take a remote peek at other interstellar systems. This is the work, no matter how small a part, that I wanted to be a part of.

Do you work on any other projects at your company?

I have been very happy to support other missions at JPL like Genesis, Deep Impact, Cassini and Galileo. Plus there are some very exciting non-flight projects where work on new technology is occurring at JPL.

Describe the human side of robotic exploration.

There is risk in sending humans into space. That will always be there, just as when the first sailors ventured out to sea. But we do have the ability to minimize this risk by sending robots to remote locations as our eyes, fingers, and even ears. Robots will always be a part of humankinds future in exploring space. We have just begun.

Do you have any hobbies?

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I have so many hobbies its hard to find time for them all. I like to play compitition Airsoft, which is like Paintball. I belong to several clubs including a Model Railroad club known as the Highland Pacific. I also like working with computer graphics and have made several objects that are used in game software. I also like to look at the stars at night and have several telescopes including a 10-inch telescope. I took this photograph of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

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In addition to my hobbies, I like to volunteer what time I have left and I am presently serving as a United States Forest Service Fire Lookout where I sit in a lookout tower over-looking the forests from a high mountain top.

In 2004, I received the “Presidents Life Time Volunteer Service Award” for the continuous volunteer activities I have been involved with since high school.

Charles White:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections