|Zip Code Mars Contribution
What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?
Decide what it is that you would like to do, then be persistent! Work towards your goals--choose paths which take you closer to your goals--and don't give up.
What is the most fascinating thing about your mission?
For me, watching the rovers navigate so many types of terrain successfully and the problem-solving that we have to do to address new types of terrain and new situations (as in, can we place the instrument on that rock at this precarious-looking angle? Can we enter and exit this crater? How do we un-embed ourselves from this ripple, and how do we prevent embedding again?)...those are the most fascinating aspects of the mission. It's my dream-come-true to work with these rovers, and to help them explore the surface of Mars!
What's the most challenging part of your job?
As Team Chief, I have to balance the needs of my team with the desires of the mission. This involves making sure that the schedules and workloads are sustainable, and that the morale of the team is good--as well as ensuring that we're continuing to accomplish amazing things and return fantastic new discoveries every day! The first part of my job--taking care of my team--is made both more exciting and more challenging by the fact that I have such a capable, can-do team. They do incredible work--but can also "can-do" themselves into overwork and fatigue, which could cause mistakes--so occasionally I find myself protecting my team from themselves! :)
What’s the most extraordinary experience you've had so far on this mission?
Working Mars time, bar none. The experience was like nothing else I've ever encountered (except for working Mars time on Mars Pathfinder). Since a Mars day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, the ever-shifting schedule means that you quickly lose sync with your friends & family. You're isolated from them, from the outside world, and even from day/night cycles on Earth! In turn, the experience bonds you deeply with your team, which is experiencing the same thing, as well as the adrenaline rush and excitement of driving brand-new rovers on Mars.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It took me a while to settle on Mars Rovers... In elementary school I wanted to be a forest ranger or an astronaut.
When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?
In junior high school, I had to do a report for my science class. I wrote to all of the NASA centers for materials, and JPL sent me a *huge* packet of information, including stunning photos from the then-brand-new Voyager mission. I was hooked then-and-there on planetary exploration. (I still have that packet from JPL!) It wasn't until I was finishing college that I decided that what I really wanted to do was work with robotics...figuring out how to navigate robots in unknown terrain...and specifically Mars rovers. Once I figured that out, I applied to grad school with connections to JPL, and chose Caltech. There I was able to work at JPL on my thesis, involving autonomous navigation for Mars rovers. As part of my doctoral work, I was hired to the Sojourner Rover operations team...and it went on from there!
Do you have any hobbies?
When I have the time, I like to fold origami, read, rubber stamp, play games, hike, and travel.