Online From Jupiter 97
Photopolarimeter/ Radiometer (PPR) instrument Engineer
My name is Leslie Tamppari. I work for the Photopolarimeter/ Radiometer (PPR) instrument on the Galileo spacecraft. This instrument senses visible light (what our eyes see) and heat. It will be used to study Jupiter's atmosphere and its four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. I help plan and coordinate observations to look at Jupiter and its moons. I think Io is particularly interesting since it's the only place in the solar system, other than Earth, where there are erupting volcanos! My instrument can tell how hot those volcanos are. The best part about this job is being involved in a one-of-a-kind spacecraft mission and knowing that we will discover things about Jupiter and its moons that will change the way we look at our solar system forever. Very few people in the world can say that they are doing something so unique! The job does have its downside as well. One of the worst things is not being able to bring the spacecraft back to fix it when something goes wrong. We just have to work around the problems. We are very good at doing this, but sometimes we lose data that we were really looking forward to.
I decided upon this career about 1 year before I graduated from college. Up until then I didn't know what I wanted to do! I decided to be a math major at the University of Arizona in Tucson because I always liked math. I didn't really want to teach and I just figured something would come along! I also got a minor in physics because I had always liked the sciences, especially physics. When I was in my 4th year of college, I interviewed for the co-op program. This is a program that allows students to work for companies in their major field for about 6 months. This is a great program for the student and the company! The student gets paid a real salary (much higher than student wages!) and the company gets to "try out" the student without making a long term investment in that student. During that co-op, I came to work for JPL as a programmer. I didn't know what to expect of JPL, but this was during the time that the Voyager spacecraft flew by Neptune and its moon Triton. It was such an exciting time! It was the first time anyone had ever seen close up pictures of Neptune and Triton before! Voyager also discovered 6 new moons of Neptune! Needless to say, I decided then and there, that this is what I wanted to do!
I went back to school to finish up my few remaining classes. I only had one semester to go and I was so inspired by JPL, that I took my first planetary science course that semester. It wasn't being offered, so I had to find a professor that was willing to teach me. I found one, and the course was just he and I sitting in his office once a week! He taught me the basics of planetary science which, along with my physics and math background, helped me get the job I have now on Galileo.
Looking back, I think it makes perfect sense that I ended up working for the space program. I always have liked science fiction books and I LOVED watching the original Star Trek when I was a kid. (I watch all the new Star Trek series too!) And I always liked science. It's funny that I chose to major in math in college since I used to get my lowest grades in math in elementary school!
Now, in addition to working, I am going to school at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). I am in the planetary science PhD program. I will probably spend about 3 more years before I get my degree. I am interested in doing planetary science research, but I also really like doing the spacecraft mission operations that I do now.
When I'm not at work or studying, I enjoy playing with my dog, Nikka,
exercising (weight lifting, running, biking, dancing), playing the clarinet
and tenor saxophone, gardening, and reading. I wish there were more hours
in a day!