The following interview is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL).
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Dawn mission?
Dawn is the biggest mission for asteroid geology in my generation. We are going to study an object that evolved more than 10 million years after the solar system formed.
How are you participating in Dawn science as it relates to the Dawn mission?
I work with the Dawn Framing Camera team at Max Planck. My main tasks are ground-based study of Vesta with telescopes to know Vesta's composition. I am a planetary geologist, so I apply earth geological knowledge to understand Vesta.
What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the Dawn mission?
Spacecraft missions are very complex. The biggest challenge has been learning to work with in a group with people from a different culture and background. The mission is as much about people as it is about Vesta.
What do you enjoy most about your work with the Dawn mission?
Interacting with people on the mission especially when they disagree with me. The science is obviously the cool aspect. It is a cosmic CSI.
Describe your thoughts and feelings as the Dawn spacecraft is approaching at Vesta?
I have written two papers about Vesta this year, predicting what we will see when we get there. So in less than a year I will know if my prediction is right or wrong. As a young PhD for me this is a great opportunity. How often can you get to predict something and have a spacecraft verify this within one year? This is something I can only dream of.
What are the most critical aspects of your job in the next several months in preparation for Vesta arrival?
My personal goal is tool development to analyze the data. The tools are the key to answering the question I have.
What are your leisure time activities?
I was an amateur astronomer, but now that I do this for a living I need a new hobby. I love the ocean, so I snorkel near my home in Hawaii, also paint and enjoy photography. I love to cook.
Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?
I would love to have a rover on Vesta like how we have on Mars. Maybe it can be done in our lifetime.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always loved space. I grew up in India near a small island where we launch all our rockets from, so I grew up around a lot of space hardware.
At what point did you determine that you would pursue a career in space science? Tell about the path that led you to this field.
This is a long story. I stared my education (BSC) in film making. I worked in Bollywood (Indian Hollywood). Then I got an MS in Journalism and worked as a Journalist in India for 4 year. Then I decide I want to study asteroids since no one in India did. So I came to the US and got another MS and PhD.
Who inspired you? Why?
Professor Tom Gehrels from the University of Arizona. He challenged me to discover an asteroid, because no Indian had. I proved him wrong. Now I am here.
What subjects were you interested in as a young student?
I loved chemistry and geography.
What was your favorite book as a child and why?
Turn Left at Orion. It was one of my first astronomy books.
What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?
Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something. I tell students if someone like me with filmmaking background can do science, anyone can.