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Meet: Jennifer Harris

Lead Integration & Test Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

jennifer harris photo

What I Do

I spend my days working on the Mars 2001 Rover as the lead integration and test engineer for the Control and Navigation Subsystem. The C&N Subsystem is basically the brains of the rover. Any computers, software, cameras, etc. necessary for the rover to make smart decisions about where to go and how to get there are in this subsystem.

I'm also working on the Mars 2001 Mission Operations Team as the lead design engineer. We are trying to figure out how to fit all of the activities that the rover needs to do into a day and still have enough power for communications, battery charging, etc. It's like a big, complex puzzle that we have to put together.

Likes and Dislikes About This Job

I like this job because it involves problem solving. Most of what I do is figuring out how something should work, seeing how it does work once we make it and then figure out why it's not working quite the way we thought it should. We fix it and try again. It's a lot of fun. There are always new and interesting problems to solve.

My job doesn't get boring because spacecraft are so complex that there's always a lot to figure out, understand and fix. The things I don't like about my job are that sometimes decisions have to be made for political reasons instead of logical reasons. Sometimes this makes it hard to do the right thing from an engineering perspective.

How I Got Here

I wanted to be either concert pianist or an engineer. I went to a music camp the summer before my senior year of high school and realized that it would be hard for me to practice as long and hard as necessary in order to survive as a concert pianist. I decided music was a better hobby than vocation for me. So, that left me with engineering. Since I got into MIT I decided I should go there. When we had to decide on what to major in, I thought Aerospace sounded the coolest so I majored in Aerospace Engineering. My father used to work on missiles and always had exciting stories to tell about testing them. He also had a picture of a rocket on the wall in our den that I thought was really cool.

When I Was a Kid

As a kid, I enjoyed everything. I played sports: softball, basketball, volleyball, and ran track. I loved music and played several instruments: piano, saxophone, marimba, bassoon, frumpet, tuba and percussion. I raised animals for 4-H. We usually had sheep, hogs, chickens or cows around our farm.

I loved math and science in school and I enjoyed competing in mental math competitions in our county. I liked physics, especially black holes. I wanted to be an astrophysicist because I thought it sounded really cool. Now, I think Aerospace Engineering is just as cool.

Advice

I remember when I was growing up that whatever crazy idea I had about what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, my parents supported me. I think that's one of the greatest things that encouraged me to do what I do. No one (in particular my parents) ever told me (or at least convinced me) that I should limit my ideas about what I could be or become in the future. I was always encouraged to do what I enjoyed. So, I encourage anyone who is thinking about some career that seems too hard or too complex to just go for it. Maybe you won't end up there, but at least you won't always wonder what could have been. Shoot for your dreams and embrace failure as a way to learn. What have you got to lose?

Personal Information

I live in Pasadena, California and I am single. In my free time I coach volleyball for 16-year old girls. I also enjoy mountain biking, hiking, running, reading, traveling and volleyball. I attend a nondenominational Christian church in Pasadena. We sometimes travel to Mexico to build houses for poor people or help needy people in our own neighborhood with food and clothes. I was a missionary in Sevastopol, Ukraine for a year in 1993 and 1994. I taught English and Bible to students in the city.

I am a person who likes adventure. I have traveled to Peru, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, and all over Europe to meet people, learn about their cultures and learn more about our world.

I grew up in Fostoria, Ohio on a farm. In the summers I gardened and worked in the fields for my dad. Also, I was usually the one who got stuck painting the barn roof every summer. At least I got a nice suntan from it. I love the opportunities I have to be involved in the space exploration program - especially with Mars. I feel like God has blessed me in my career and I would like to glorify Him by exploring and allowing others to explore and better understand His incredible creation.

One day I hope to be married and have children so I can teach them all of the neat things I have learned and continue to learn throughout my life.


Learn more from my chats
April 24, 1998

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