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Mission - Biographies

Dave Spencer
Mission Manager, Deep Impact

Dave Spencer

What's the coolest thing about Deep Impact?
Deep Impact is a mission that can be understood by anyone: hit the nucleus of a comet as hard as you can, and watch what happens. There's nothing subtle about this mission. You don't need a PhD to grasp the concept. Any kid who's grabbed a big rock and thrown it into a lake can understand Deep Impact.

Why do you like working at JPL?
How many other places can you go to work and feel like an explorer? At JPL, we send robots to go places that have never been seen before. Our missions expand human knowledge, and, once in awhile, we discover things that change how we perceive ourselves, and our place in the universe. That's pretty fun stuff.

How did you end up in space exploration?
As I neared high school graduation, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to study journalism or engineering in college. About that time, I read the book "Space" by James Michener. It told the story of the very early days of human space flight. I decided to go to Purdue University (Neal Armstrong and Gus Grissom are alums) and study aerospace engineering, in hopes of becoming an astronaut. Later on, I developed a liking for trajectory design and spacecraft attitude dynamics, which led me to JPL.

Who in your life inspired you and how?
My grandfather was my favorite person as I was growing up. He instilled in me a love for the outdoors, and an adventurous spirit.

What do you do in your spare time?
I have a long list of things I'll do when I have some. I've been working on a novel for 12 years. One day, I'll finish it. It has nothing to do with engineering, so it is an excellent diversion.

What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
I'll give you two: playing in the US Amateur golf championship, and sailing around the globe.

How technically/scientifically oriented were you as a young person?
I have always been fascinated with numbers. As a very little kid, I would write down long lists of numbers and add them up. As a first grader, I remember sitting at the lunch table with a friend and talking about time and the edge of the universe; I still think about the same things today. However, most of my energy growing up was spent on sports-baseball was my passion, and nothing else came close.

What was your favorite book as a young person and why?
I had lots of favorite books, but "The Hobbit" was one I read many times. It's all about exploration and adventure, and the characters have such endearing weaknesses.

As a child, what did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pro baseball player. I held onto this dream through high school, several years longer than I should have. I played second base and was a singles hitter-I didn't have enough power to impress the scouts.

What is your position on the Deep Impact project and what do you do?
I'm the Mission Manager for Deep Impact. My job is to lead the day-to-day operations of the flight team, as we fly the spacecraft toward Comet Tempel 1.

If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
There are many, many things I'd like to do if I had alternate lives. I'd like to be an oceanographer, and study the depths of the ocean floor. I'd like to study wildlife in Alaska. At one point in my life, I worked on a trail crew for the US Forest Service and fought forest fires part time. I considered becoming a smokejumper and parachuting in to remote fires. I liked their subculture-work hard during the fire season, and surf during the winter.

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010