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Doug Ellison
Picture of Doug Ellison
Doug Ellison
Visualization Producer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
"My favorite moment has to be sitting in the dark room of Deep Space Operations while controlling a real-time visualization of the EPOXI flyby of comet Hartley 2 and knowing it was going live on NASA TV."

Where are you from?
I was born in Chester, England, but currently I am living in Pasadena, Calif.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
I remember watching images from Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner Rover crawling onto a small screen via an old modem in a library in rural England. The amazing combination of engineering, science, exploration and adventure from these images had me hooked from then on!

"My role is... taking the black art of
spaceflight and making it intelligible
to the general public -- using all the
technology we can!"
Doug Ellison

How did you end up working in the space program?
I had been producing animations, mosaics and movies of data from spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity for a few years, and sharing them with people via a forum I founded in 2004 called Unmannedspaceflight.com. I was also occasionally volunteering as a guest-blogger for The Planetary Society. Through these connections, I met several people from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who saw what I might be able to bring to their outreach visualization projects (led by JPL producer Kevin Hussey). It was hard work to bring everything together to make it happen, but in May 2010 I moved to Pasadena and started working on a visualization project called "Eyes on the Solar System."

Who inspired you?
My heroes are both inside and outside the field of space exploration. I admire the bravery of explorer Ranulph Fiennes, the persistence of land speed record holder Richard Noble and the tenacity and brilliance of the Mars Exploration Rover principal investigator Steve Squyres.

What is a Visualization Producer?
My role is to bring together the programmers and 3D artists in our group, as well as the engineers and scientists involved in our exciting missions to define, refine and create engaging visualization tools for the general public. It's taking the black art of spaceflight and making it intelligible to the general public -- using all the technology we can!

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
My favorite moment has to be sitting in the dark room of Deep Space Operations while controlling a real-time visualization of the EPOXI flyby of comet Hartley 2 and knowing it was going live on NASA TV. This was the only way we had of showing people what was happening. This experience was stressful, rewarding and very, very exciting. It felt odd to be inside a mission during such an exciting event. Afterward, I shared a comment with my colleague Jon that echoed something that the Apollo astronauts used to say, "Gee, we missed the whole thing." It was great to be able to go back and watch the whole event on replay and then be proud of the contribution we had made.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Keep chasing your passion, and your ability. Everyone has unique skills, talents and abilities. I strongly believe that for everyone there is a somewhere out-there -- a place and a job for them. My abilities lie in visualization and multimedia, my interests lie in space exploration. While using my abilities in the medical field in a previous career I would spend my spare time using those same abilities to visualize space exploration. Do that. Do what you're good at applied to something you love, and eventually, opportunities will come to you.

What do you do for fun?
I love getting out into the hills, the city and the desert and Gigapanning -- a technique of taking photographic panoramas that involve hundreds of images that then get stitched together to make many hundreds of megapixels, hence Gigapan. I also enjoy taking my Rav 4 out into the dry lake beds and hills around the Mojave Desert and Death Valley. It's rewarding to figure out how to get to an interesting viewpoint via tracks and off-roading, and then documenting it at the highest resolution possible. Closer to home, I'm slowly learning to play the piano and I'm being introduced to some great Sci-FI TV shows by my new friends here in Los Angeles.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Almost every single part of our lives is touched by science, engineering and math. Whatever your interests and passions are, becoming adept in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) subject is highly worthwhile. It will allow you to be involved in so many exciting career choices and you will be able to make a positive difference in whatever you choose to pursue. For instance, engineering new medical equipment, calculating new battery technology, designing new aerodynamic vehicles, building new rockets or programming a spacecraft to land on Mars, STEM subjects are the subjects demanded by the most exciting challenges and adventures facing us today and in the future.


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Last Updated: 7 May 2014


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