In Memory of Mary Kaye Olsen
Mars Global Surveyor Program Manager
NASA Headquarters, Washington DC

My Career Journey

My background does not readily lend itself to managing space programs. When I was growing up I wanted to be an oceanographer. I took as many math and science courses as my small high school offered to prepare myself for college. But my family has a long history of military service and I felt it was my duty to serve my country also.

I applied to several colleges in Hawaii, Rhode Island and Texas for oceanography programs. Texas A&M was doubly intriguing; I applied for an ROTC scholarship there, as well as to the oceanographic program. I also applied to the U.S. Naval Academy. I was accepted at all of them! The unique opportunity to attend the Academy stood out so I accepted an appointment there. I took a lot of math, science and engineering courses, and graduated in 1981 as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy with a Bachelor of Science degree. I was stationed in Guam, where I forecast typhoons; in Monterey California, where I worked with global climate models; on a deep ocean survey ship, where we did bottom surveys in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (we went through the Panama Canal!!); and in San Diego, where I worked in a field office for the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA, now part of NIMA). While I was stationed in San Diego, I went to night school and got my M.S. degree in Systems Management at USC. When I left active duty in 1988, I moved straight to Washington DC to work for DMA as a civilian.

So, what does all this have to do with NASA and Mars?! Absolutely nothing, directly. The math, science and engineering background, however, was very important.

I applied for a program analyst position at NASA Headquarters in 1991. After a few years analyzing the budget and schedule/cost performance of many different space science programs, I started to get bored. One of my supervisors gave me the opportunity to move into the program management area. I assisted the person who was then managing the Mars Observer mission. After Mars Observer was lost, I moved into the management of several smaller Discovery-class missions: the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and the Mars Pathfinder mission. When Congress allowed NASA to start the Mars Surveyor Program, I was fortunate enough to be selected to manage the first mission in that series, the Mars Global Surveyor.

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