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Rosaly Lopes
Picture of Rosaly Lopes
Rosaly Lopes
Planetary Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Rosaly gets close to a terrestrial volcano.

Where are you from?
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More specifically, I grew up near the famous beach, Ipanema.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
I was four years old when I heard my parents talking about a Russian guy who had gone into space. I didn't even know where Russia was, but I liked the idea of going into space. As I was growing up, I followed everything I could about the space program. I loved the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" and dreamed of the day when we could all go into space.

"Study hard and do what
you love, then it doesn't
feel like work."
Rosaly Lopes-Gautier

How did you end up working in the space program?
After reading about a woman who worked for NASA, I wanted to become an astronomer for NASA. Then, years later, I saw my first volcano erupt, and that changed my mind forever. I was on Mount Etna in Sicily in July of 1979 when the volcano started erupting. The active crater had a beautiful fire fountain spurting red lava about 30 to 50 feet up into the air. It was the most beautiful spectacle, and I was hooked on volcanoes from then on. I studied Astronomy at the University of London, and got my doctorate in planetary science in 1986. I have been at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) since 1989, when I worked on the Galileo mission, studying volcanoes on Jupiter's moon, Io.

Now I continue to study volcanoes and also work on the Cassini mission on the RADAR team, analyzing data from Saturn's moon, Titan.

Who inspired you?
I guess Yuri Gagarin inspired me first, followed by other astronauts and cosmonauts. Then during the Apollo 13 crisis, I read about a woman who worked for NASA, Frances Northcutt. She is not well known, but she showed me that women could work for NASA in science and engineering and help the space program.

What is a Planetary Scientist?
As a planetary scientist, I currently plan science observations of Saturn, its moons and rings. My main interest on Cassini is Saturn's largest moon Titan. The Synthetic Aperture (SAR) data from the RADAR instrument show that Titan has volcanic features, but not like silicate volcanism on the Earth or Io. Titan's flows and other volcanic features are likely the result of ice volcanism.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career?
Getting the Carl Sagan medal in 2005 for my public outreach efforts was the proudest moment of my career. My mother, sister and son came to Cambridge in England to see me get that medal.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Follow what you love and you will be good at it.

What do you do for fun?
I love traveling and exploring (particularly to volcanoes around the world), and have been to more than 50 countries.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Study hard and do what you love, then it doesn't feel like work.

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Last Updated: 3 January 2013

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Last Updated: 3 Jan 2013