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Maura Rountree-Brown
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Mission - Biographies

Maura Rountree-Brown
Education and Public Outreach Lead, Deep Impact

Maura Rountree-Brown

What is the Coolest thing about Deep Impact?
Get in front of a comet and let it hit our spacecraft so we can look deep inside? Are you kidding? What could be more cool! It's a fascinating mission from the standpoint that we worked with the physics of space to make the mission fly. Once I realized that we can't zoom around space the way they do in science fiction movies, I gained a great appreciation for the intricate plan the team put together to put our impactor in front of a comet and use its speed to make the crater rather than us shooting a projectile toward it. My favorite thing about working on Deep Impact was seeing a community form around our mission that went beyond our engineering, science, and financial team to a wider group of people who committed to bring Deep Impact to schools, public events and the whole rest of the world. There are countless media, risk management, educators, public speaking ambassadors and other people like me who combine efforts to do outreach to the world and I've enjoyed working with them.

Why do you like working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and for the University of Maryland?
I'm in an unusual position. I work for the University of Maryland under the Outreach Manager Dr. Lucy McFadden but I work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the Outreach Community there. I enjoy working with both cultures on the same project. There is a difference between the way the science team and the engineering team at JPL think about Deep Impact. I've had the advantage of listening to them negotiate for the best of both their efforts until they came down to one set of decisions as a team. Seeing so many bright people use their particular skills to design and fly a mission is amazing. I like seeing where my particular talents have affected the outcome as well.

What is your job on the Deep Impact project?
I work on the Education and Public Outreach part of the mission plan. Every mission proposed to NASA has to design and create educational products and programs for teachers and students and also make communication products for the public. That means we spend our time making videos, web sites, games, educational activities and products like posters and post cards. We get to travel and give workshops for teachers and students and talk to people who are very excited about what we do. My special interest has been writing songs, stories and activities to learn science.

How did you end up in space exploration?
Purely by accident. I was a children's theater major who ended up in television production and corporate media work. That brought me to JPL on a video project and that was 13 years ago.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love dancing, music, creative writing, seeing movies and plays, and stealing off to Disneyland or some other special place with my daughter and husband. We can lose an entire day browsing through a museum, county fair or special exhibit somewhere. In addition, I think being involved in your community is really important so I am a Girl Scout leader, an advisory board member for the Salvation Army and work on the Tournament of Roses parade and game every year. Spare time isn't something you have, in today's world, it is something you have to make and I'm learning to do that better, I hope.

Who in your life inspired you?
My parents, definitely. My mother identified needs and created jobs for herself that companies never imagined they needed till she proposed them. My father is very creative and dedicated to excellence. People who have the ability to combine compassion, wisdom and humor to the mechanics of being intellectual stun me. Everything that comes out of them is so much richer that they always inspire me.

What is one yet-to-be achieved goal?
When I traveled with a television show for two years and once by myself for two months on Greyhound buses, I saw a lot of our country and I would like to re-travel it with my husband and daughter. When I was young, my father took us all through the east to see historical landmarks after he had been a part of a documentary crew on a revolutionary war film. It was a great experience. Also, I would love to write a children's book with my daughter.

Were you science oriented as a child?
I was never comfortable with math or science. A teacher in college made me promise that if she passed me in a science class, I would never go into either field to which I heartily agreed. I keep waiting for her to pop out from behind a tree and take my degree away. But seriously, since coming to JPL and listening to people use math and science to solve puzzles and challenges in order to build and fly their missions, I'm fascinated by both subjects. I guess I just needed to see their logical use in a situation to appreciate them.

What was your favorite book as a young person?
I loved any book about early English, Scottish and French royalty: Henry VIII, his wives, Mary Queen of Scots etc. Also, as a small child, I liked Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne's poems.

What did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress, a dancer or a writer.

If you weren't working in space exploration now, what would you be doing?
I might go back to some of the things that I have done in the past: television, advertising, marketing, or something else that lets me combine my analytical skills with my creative skills.

What advice do you have for students?
Never be afraid of math or science. Using both is like being a master game player or a detective solving crimes by using clues. You just need to use them as tools to solve riddles and puzzles. Also, work at what you love and it can usually turn into a job some day.

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010