Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.
Mars Atmosphere Interdisciplinary Scientist
NASA Ames Research Center
Who I Am
I work for NASA at the Ames Research Center in Mt.View California. My job is to study the atmospheres of the planets, Mars in particular. I am the atmosphere interdisciplinary scientist on the Mars Global Surveyor mission, which will be launched in November 1996. Basically, what I do is analyze spacecraft data. I also try to simulate these data with computer models that I and my colleagues have developed over the past several decades. What I learn from these studies helps us understand the weather and climate of Mars and why it is so different from Earth. NASA also asks me to help them plan for future missions.
My Career Journey
I got into this business in a round-about way. When I was a boy I always wanted to be a pilot. So when I was old enough, I started taking flying lessons. One of the things pilots have to know about is the weather. It was at this point in my life that I began to study meteorology. After a couple of years in the Army, I enrolled at San Jose State University and majored in meteorology. After graduating I decided to go for a Masters degree and starting thinking about a thesis topic. One of my professors, Dr. Christoper Riegel, showed me a book that discussed the atmospheres of Mars and Venus. I was absolutely intrigued! The atmospheres of these planets were so different from ours here on Earth that I wondered what their weather must be like. Dr. Riegel then introduced me to the man who would set me off on the path that led me to where I am today - Dr. James Pollack. Dr. Pollack was a NASA scientist who was studying the weather on Mars and needed a graduate student to help him out. We agreed on a thesis topic and the rest is history. I went on to the University of Washington for a Ph.D. and returned to Ames where I've been ever since.
Likes/Dislikes About Career
There are a number of things I really like about this job. First, I get to learn new things about the universe. It's really cool to solve a problem that nobody else in the world has solved. Second, I get to participate in the exploration of the solar system. I really believe that civilization is at a unique point in its history in that we are just now developing the capability to explore - and ultimately visit - other worlds. Wow! What could be more exciting than that? Third, I get to be my own boss. As a scientist it is my job to figure out what to do and how to do it. Scientists are judged by their peers, not by a traditional "boss." The only thing I really don't like about my job is the paperwork. When you work for the government (NASA is a government agency) you have to deal with paperwork. Sometimes it can take up your whole day.
I have been in this business now for almost 20 years. I was just starting my career when the Viking mission, the last mission to Mars, was ending. Since then there have been no successful missions to Mars. Both the former Soviet Union and the US have tried, but neither was successful. It has been very frustrating during these past 20 years hoping for new successful missions. But now, NASA is on the verge of launching a virtual armada of spacecraft to Mars beginning in November 1996 and continuing well into the next century. In addition, Russia is planning to launch a mission to Mars in 1996 and the Japanese in 1998. Mars has finally become a high-priority space exploration target and I am very excited. This will be the best of times for me in my career since I now find myself poised to be innundated with new data. Let's hope that all these missions are successful!
I am married with one grown daughter. She's in college now studying environmental technology and ethics. My wife was a teacher but is now working in industry. My hobbies include tennis, surfing, playing the guitar, riding motorcycles and telling fish stories.