Mark Adler
Mars Exploration Program Architect
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Why I'm Here and Not Somewhere Else

The thing I like best about my job is that I get to work with a lot of different people in a lot of different disciplines: scientists, electrical engineers, propulsion designers, spacecraft operators, managers, etc. I enjoy learning about all those aspects and trying to integrate them.

The thing I like least about my job (today anyway as I write this) is a sometimes unending stream of requests from NASA Headquarters for all-too-hasty responses to all-too-important questions. Hasty answers are dangerous in that not everything can be taken into account, and may lead to not-so-great decisions that we then have to live with.

Me as a Kid

As a kid I always liked math, science and learning in general. On the side I built and launched model rockets in elementary school, built dozens of electronics projects in junior high and high school (paid for by fixing televisions), and did lots of computer programming in high school, as well as designing and programming computer data acquisition systems for medical research. I was in a summer science program through high school, including the last summer in a laboratory program where I did biochemistry research at the University of Miami Medical School, successfully getting fatty membrane proteins into solution in water using a sequence of alcohols. It was at that medical school that I made some contacts leading to the data acquisition work.

I was following the same accidental career philosophy then that I follow now. I just did what seemed fun. The model rockets had me learning trigonometry while I was in fifth grade in order to determine their altitude. That led me to learn some more math on my own. The model rockets also led me to electronics when I got interested in instrumented payloads, like a radio to send the sounds of the flight. The electronics got me into computers when the first computer kit showed up in "Popular Electronics." And so on. I don't remember ever wanting to "be" something--I just remember wanting to do different things. I guess I'm the same now.

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