Where are you from?
Originally, Brooklyn, New York. I moved to California in January of 1982.
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
The Moon landing in 1969. Neil Armstrong’s first steps. I was 9 years old.
How did you end up working on the Europa Clipper project?
[Former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director] Charles Elachi asked me to. I was on a review panel recommending which Europa mission to do within the context of a NASA-requested cost constraint.
In all seriousness, how can there not be? The way biology formed on Earth, everything points to life on Europa.
What is a Project Manager, and what part(s) of the project are you working on?
The Project Manager is the person whom everybody comes to and tells the bad news. [laughing] While the primary responsibility is making sure that we can deliver the promised mission—including the science on the schedule and budget we commit too—this entails, in my opinion, more than just tracking the programmatic aspects. Success of the mission relies on the quality of our development and operations. To ensure that, the most important responsibility I have is having a quality project team. The project staff of Clipper are the best JPL and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab have to offer. They in turn assure that the delivery staff are the same. Bottom line in my opinion: The Project Manager's major responsibility is the quality of the team. I guess in that role, I have done a fantastic job! [laughing]
Tell us about a favorite moment in your career.
The landing of Phoenix on Mars.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you? What worked for you?
Pepto Bismol [laughs]. I truly believe you need to have implementation and product delivery experience, followed by line management experience, and office experience—in my case it was flight system, group supervisor and division manager. But I think the real issue is to be well-rounded. From the point of view of delivery, this being an implementation product—I think you garner a lot of empathy for the team that will be working extraordinarily hard over the course of the project. I think that when I talk to people, they recognize that I understand what they’re going through. I think empathy is the key. To me that’s the big thing.
What do you do for fun outside of JPL/work?
Outside of work? [Laughs] Well, I wouldn’t call it fun, but I think the best thing I do to decompress is spin.
What’s your favorite space movie?
Hmm, I can answer “favorite science fiction book”—can I do that? Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Unbelievably good. Written in the mid 1950s, which makes it all the more incredible. Favorite space movie? I didn’t particularly care for 2001 because the book was so much better than the movie. I thought Interstellar was pretty darn good.
Are there aliens on Europa?
Do I think there’s life on Europa? Oh, hell, yeah. How can there not be? Just like in the movie, Europa Report—which, by the way, had Europa Clipper team members as consultants. In all seriousness, how can there not be? The way biology formed on Earth, everything points to life on Europa. I don’t see how it’s possible that there isn’t something biological on Europa. I won’t call it “aliens,” but at least the makings of biology. The geology is fascinating, but it’s all about the astrobiology.