Where are you from?
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
I grew up in Wellesley, Mass., which is a suburb of Boston. Now I live in Denver, Colo.
Space was in the air
when I was growing up. Watching the Apollo 11
landing in the 4th grade completely blew my mind. Shortly after that, I became an obsessively avid reader of science fiction throughout my childhood.
And, when I was an impressionable kid, I had the good fortune to meet some real planetary scientists.
How did you end up working in the space program?
It definitely has been a connected path. As an undergraduate I got research jobs working with some of my professors who were involved with the Viking (1 and 2) and Pioneer Venus (1 and 2) programs, which then turned into summer research internships, and these led me to major in planetary science. This then led me to graduate school, a post-doctoral fellowship, a faculty job and voila!
Who inspired you?
Many have inspired me: my parents and their cool intellectual friends, as well as a variety of authors, scientists and musicians have left their mark on my life as well. For example, authors Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, scientist Carl Sagan, musician Jerry Garcia and the Beatles, to name a few.
What is a Curator of Astrobiology?
These days a curator is a scientist who works at a museum. As curator of astrobiology I don't really have a collection, (although I would like to someday). Instead, my job consists of various space research projects, involvement in several spacecraft missions, and a range of education and public outreach projects -- lecturing, exhibit development, planetarium shows -- and as much popular writing as I can squeeze in.
Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
Planetary encounters are always exciting. For example, the Voyager 2 Neptune encounter comes to mind: I was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the middle of the night watching the first close-up pictures of Triton come down with my colleagues. Now that was unforgettable!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Go for it! Follow your dreams. Work hard at doing something you enjoy.
What do you do for fun?
I play guitar and love to jam with my friends. Also, hiking, traveling, dancing, reading, writing and daydreaming are on my favorites list.
If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Learn a lot of basic science -- physics and chemistry, and pursue research internships early on to get a taste of it.
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Last Updated: 3 January 2013
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