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Ellis Miner
Picture of Ellis Miner
Ellis Miner
Retired Planetary Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Ellis worked on two missions to Venus -- Magellan (above) and Mariner 10, which went on to Mercury.

Ellis Miner worked on missions to all eight planets -- a distinction that made him everybody's answer man during a four-decade career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena Calif. His career spanned the 1969 Mariner 7 to Mars to the Cassini mission to Saturn, which arrived at Saturn in 2004 shortly before his retirement.

"The amazement is in recognizing that
by exploring space we are doing
something that's never been done before."
Ellis Miner
When Ellis first arrived at JPL, he was about to don an army uniform. Fresh out of graduate school and a young father of two, he was facing two years of active duty in Korea. Upon completion of his officer training at Fort Gordon, Ga., he was unexpectedly sent back to JPL -- which at that time employed active duty officers -- to serve his two-year term.

He started his career in the inner solar system with Mariner 7, Mariner 8 and Mariner 9 to Mars and then Mariner 10 to Venus and Mercury. But the highlight of his career were the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missions to the outer solar system. These granddaddies of space exploration provided the world with stunning images of the gas giants and invaluable science about these distant worlds. Shortly before the launch of the Voyager missions, Ellis also was working half time on the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions to Mars.

"Voyager was probably the most exciting project I've worked on at JPL," Ellis said. "I doubt very much that there will ever be a mission as great as Voyager. It was like a family and when it was over, it was very hard to say goodbye."

Believing that researching the wonders of space isn't enough, Ellis spent countless hours sharing his knowledge.

"One of my motivations was helping my children with their homework and realizing that I needed to make the concepts real to them instead of just a memorization of formulas -- that got me interested in communicating science to the public," he said. "I worked with our education office and we thought about how we should be reaching out to the education community."

Ellis has served as science adviser for many NASA educational efforts, including this website. (Editor's note: We still coax him out of retirement every now and then to help us out.) Ellis has also lent his enthusiasm for publicizing space science to the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society as a press officer. One of Ellis' missions was to improve the organization's education and public outreach efforts.

"The amazement is in recognizing that by exploring space we are doing something that's never been done before -- that we are discovering -- that there are many interesting things in space," Ellis said. "I never tire of talking about it to general audiences. I've probably given better than 400 talks and every time people come away astounded."

Outside of space exploration, Ellis enjoys a rich family life with his wife, Beverly Allen, their seven children and many grandchildren. He values family life above all. One of his personal mottos is "the greatest work you will ever accomplish will be within the walls of your own home."

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he has served in leadership roles and taught high school students at early morning seminary. Ellis has also penned books on Uranus and Neptune.


Last Updated: 3 January 2013


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Last Updated: 3 Jan 2013