Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.
Johnson Space Center
Who I Am
I hold a job as a principal scientist. I am a soil chemist and a mineralogist by training. One of my projects is to study martian soils. As you know, there are no real martian soil samples available on Earth. But from the data obtained from Viking missions we know a great deal about martian soils. Using these data and also from remotely sensed spectral data of the martian surface, we are able to identify terrestrial soils which are similar to martian soils. We also can mix soil constituents of known properties to obtain a composite soil with properties similar to those of martian soils. (By the way, none of the martian meteorites qualify as soil materials as they came from somewhat deeper parts of the surface.) These simulated materials are the basic stuff that I work with until one day real martian samples are available to us for research.
My Career Journey
I never dreamed of working on a space-related subject at first. My training in soil science is basically directed toward agriculture, a down-to-Earth subject. However, I learned that NASA was developing a regenerative life-support system to recycle the wastes produced by crew members in long-duration space missions. I applied for a position as a National Research Council fellow to come and work on this project. After coming to NASA Ames as a research fellow, I realized that my knowledge of terrestrial soils and minerals can be put to good use in martian soil studies. That is how I got involved in martian soils.
Likes/Dislikes About Career
The best thing about my job is that I work on something I like, it is almost like getting paid for doing your hobby. The worst thing is not having any real soils from Mars. Space-related things do not happen overnight. They are costly and require national-level planning. So we will have to wait until the nation is ready to launch a sample-return mission to Mars.
As a kid I enjoyed nature and outdoors. I always liked to play with other kids and travel. I had an interest in science, but the thing I liked most was nature. I used to observe ant nests, birds, snakes, fish, plants and whatever was in my surroundings. As I grew older (high school) I developed a liking for math and chemistry. This is due largely to two dedicated teachers who taught these subjects.
I am married and have a 13-year-old daughter who is a talented artist. I used to do biking as a child but now the main outdoor activity for me is walking or jogging. I also enjoy swimming when I get the time. I am a person who likes spicy food. This may have something to do with my Asian heritage. Being in Texas there is enough of it available around here.
I was born in Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean. I completed my schooling and college there. Being an agricultural country, naturally I was interested in learning something to do with agriculture. I did my graduate studies at North Carolina State University, a reputed agricultural school in the U.S. I know achieving one's goal is not easy or straightforward, but one thing I learned is that if you keep working at it you will get there eventually. One day I hope to work on real martian soil samples and hope that day will arrive sooner than I think.