Online From Jupiter 97
How did I end up doing this? When I was 11 years old, my father took me on a tour of JPL (I'm a Los Angeles native). First we saw a multimedia show called "Welcome to Outer Space" that talked about how exciting it was to work in the space program and help explore the solar system (if you come visit JPL nowadays, you'll see an updated version of that same show, and I still like watching it). Then we went to the spacecraft "museum," where there are models of many of the spacecraft that have been operated from JPL. One of the guides started talking about some of the problems with running satellites--what do you do when the spacecraft's computers start arguing with each other, for instance?
And finally, we went to Mission Control, where people track the lab's spacecraft. If you've ever seen the movie "War Games," you have a pretty good idea of what Mission Control looks like here at JPL. I was hooked. I told my father that this was where I was going to work when I grew up. He laughed.
He's not laughing anymore :-)
I knew I wanted to do some type of engineering or science work, so I took as much science and math as I possibly could. At college (UC Berkeley), I majored in physics and astronomy. My senior year came, and, stupid me, I almost forgot to sign up to interview with JPL! Luckily, I got an interview, and I told the interviewer that I had wanted to work at JPL since I was 11. I like to think that helped me get a job here, and I've been working at JPL--and on Galileo-- ever since. That was 13 years ago.
My first job on Galileo was doing something called "Mission Design." Never heard of it? Neither had I, until my interview. It is, literally, designing the mission. For instance, the navigation people came up with a number of proposed trajectories. Each trajectory would have Galileo arrive at Jupiter on a different day, at a slightly different location. Which one should we pick? Mission Designers would consider many different things, like how much radiation will the spacecraft pick up? will we be able to have a good radio link with the spacecraft? will we be able to meet the desires of the scientists?
Another big part of Mission Design is coming up with some of the rules for how you run the mission, usually the rules about how the engineers and scientists and navigators and others will "get along." Not that I mean that people are throwing punches at each other! It's more that an engineer's job is to be very protective of the health of the spacecraft, a navigator's job is to know exactly where the spacecraft is (and where it's going), and a scientist's job is to get the data. Sometimes these jobs conflict with each other. Hence, my job.
I stayed working part-time on Galileo Mission Design when I went back to school (UCLA) to get a PhD in Astronomy, and came back to work full-time on Galileo after that. I miss doing research, but I've really enjoyed working on a flight project, let alone on a mission that is sending back new science data to earth every day. It's a thrill to be among the first on this planet to see the latest and greatest view of, say, ice flows on Europa.
Outside of work, I have two little girls (3 1/2 years old, and 5 months), which means that I don't have as much time to go inline skating and sailing and practice playing piano and violin as I would like. I just finished building bookcases--we have too many books, partly because my collection of Sherlock Holmes books keeps growing. We see a lot of movies (my husband and I really liked "Shine," while the girls REALLY like "Toy Story." I think we've seen it about 53 times so far), and bake a lot of cookies.