Instrument Scientist, Deep Impact
What is the coolest thing about the Deep Impact mission?
The ability to image a body formed at the beginning of the solar system, and to delve into it to find material that is little aged since this formation.
Where do you work? How are you associated with the Deep Impact mission?
I work at the University of Maryland Department of Astronomy, providing scientific and engineering support to the PI. My official title is "instrument scientist."
Why do you like working at UM?
UM is a very free and rewarding place for scientific investigations of the solar system. We have a good group of people with different backgrounds working on the project, and it is fascinating to see how University people can run a NASA space mission.
How did you end up working in space science?
I have been following the space program since I was 6 years old, and dreaming of working on space missions. My calling came early.
What is your everyday work life like?
I spend about 70% of my time working at my computer in an office on the 2nd floor of the Astronomy building, analyzing DI data, working out details of the mission, and meeting with colleagues to discuss DI issues. 20 % of my time is spent observing comets and asteroids at telescopes worldwide. 10% of my time is spent presenting the results of this work to the scientific community and the public.
What do you expect to learn from the Deep Impact mission?
I want to learn the detailed surface structure of a comet, and the nature of the sub-surface material. How jets are created and evolve. What happens when you whack a body the size of an Appalachian mountain with something the size of a small car at 6 miles per second.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At what point did you determine that you would become a scientist?
Who inspired you?
Many people, from Galileo to Einstein to Darwin. My dad was very much into technology, and worked on the first commercial IBM 360's, and always took us down to the Smithsonian, so that, too, was an influence, as was watching Apollo 8 launch from the Cape in 1968. The Time-Life Science Series and Golden Science Books were also important to my development.
Were you a science-oriented kid?
Yes. I always used to wonder why the sky was blue, what made lightning work and plants grow the way they do. I had this spare electric razor my Dad was going to throw away, that I rescued and tore apart and put together and made run forward and backwards. I built a crystal radio and had fun hooking it up to various grounds in the house (from the base of the phone to an electrical outlet) to see what reception I could get. Embarrassing as it is to say, I got bummed out when I read about maximum entropy and the death of the universe, but not as much as Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" - I'm not so angst ridden.
As a teenager, I had fun with a crazy physicist friend who introduced me to the wonders of non-Newtonian fluids and surface fluids. (You should take some cornstarch and mix it with a bit of water sometime, then squeeze on it - hours of fun in the kitchen sink with soap and water and thin films).
I used to watch the constellations, and wonder what was out there. I have a very good sense of direction and we always seemed to be going somewhere as a kid. I developed a strong sense of discovery and adventure. I am having a good time at Mauna Kea now, as I write this, watching the Southern Cross at night, and seeing Rigel Kintaurus = Alpha Centauri, a G2 star of similar age and size to our own, only 4.3 light years away!
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Depends on the age. Early on, "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Later, in my pre-teen years, probably the "Andromeda Strain" by Michael Crichton and "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C. Clarke. As an adult, "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny. I also liked the Oz books and Star Trek.
What are your leisure time activities?
Gardening, swimming, hiking, reading, travel.
Do you have any advice for young scientists?
Become passionately curious. Think outside the box, and question the rules. Look up at night and wonder what is out there. Look up during the day and ask why the sky is blue and what holds the clouds up. Think about how the Sun is a third generation star, with all its material derived from previous supernovae. Hold a rock in your hand, and ask how it got there. Look at your hand, and think about how the trillion cells in it have come to their present function from a bunch of seawater and organic muck.