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Mike Mellon
Planetary Scientist, Mars Global Surveyor
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

Who I Am

I am a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in California and work for the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council in Washington DC. My work primarily focuses on studying martian geology and climate, including, as central link between these two, water. Water on Mars has attracted a great deal of interest from scientists. Widespread flood channels and valley networks indicate liquid water was once an active agent of erosion on the planet's surface. Yet today, the surface of Mars is too cold and dry to support liquid water. Still, water is present as vapor in the atmosphere and as ice at the polar caps, and probably exists in abundance as ice within the soil (permafrost). Yet, we don't understand where the volume of water that was needed to carve the channels has gone or why the climate has changed. In my work I investigate where water could be located and what geologic evidence can tell us about the planetwide distribution of water. I also study how water is related to the martian climate and how the climate changes in time.

While at work I spend much of my time in the library, my office and the laboratory. In the library I gather information from a wide variety of fields like chemistry, engineering, geology, physics, and of course, planetary science. In my office I use the information I've gathered to create computer models (simulations) of Mars to evaluate existing data, predict future data and to test theories. In the laboratory I make measurements of water and soil in a Mars-like environment (cold). Laboratory experiments can be easier and less costly than making measurements at Mars and help to test both theories and computer models.

Early Years

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. As a kid I always had some interest in science and engineering, though I never really had any particular career in mind. I did enjoy science in school more than other subjects, particularly when we got do some some hands-on experiments. My grades, however, were not the greatest. When I was 10, my parents got me a telescope and I spent a good deal of time looking at stars and planets. But usually I spent more time fishing and riding my bike than contemplating Mars. Later in high school, my interests tended more toward physics. I still wasn't sure what kind of career I wanted and took classes in drafting and shop, as well as math and science classes. Shop turned out to be rather useful in doing laboratory work where I need to design and build experiments. In my spare time I liked to build model airplanes and model rockets. Some of my rockets were more successful than others. Most of my spare time in high school was occupied with learning karate.

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