Rob Manning
Flight System Chief Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

My Journey

I spent most of my childhood living a Huckleberry Finn's lifestyle in the islands and farmlands of northwest Washington. As a kid on those long wet and windy winter nights, I read in the newspapers and "National Geographic" magazine about the amazing space probes and astronauts that the US was sending to the Moon. It was all part of the whirlwind space race that had me transfixed on everything about outer space. I followed the astronauts' adventures on TV with the rest of the nation and built plastic models of the latest spaceships as soon as they came out; starting with Mercury, and then on to the Gemini and the Apollo missions. It was a heady time to be a kid! The "future" was everywhere.

The funny part was that we knew so little about outer space: the Moon was clearly visible in our mind's eye, but Mars was this blotchy red thing (that probably had canals!), we had no idea what Venus was all about, and the only thing classroom textbooks said about the outer planets was that they were different colors, some were very big, and one looks like a coffee mug with two handles! Not much to get excited about when there were astronauts - real people - actually flying to the Moon!

It wasn't until the Mariner series of spacecraft that the other planets took hold of my imagination. One day the front page of our local paper showed real photos taken by a space robot flying past Mars! Now THAT was something interesting. From then on, my attention turned to other worlds.

My parents purchased a collection of Time/Life science books that changed my life. These picture books brought the reality of what science is and what scientists do right into my living room (I didn't see a difference between engineering and science - it all looked intriguingly foreign to me). I saw pictures of places like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where people actually invented these space probes. From then on, I wanted to do that.

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