In Memory of Mary Kaye Olsen
Mars Global Surveyor Program Manager
NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
Mary Kaye died suddenly, at the age of only 37, a couple of weeks before
the launch of Mars Global Surveyor. Her name was painted on the gantry
and a seat full of flowers was kept for her in the launch viewing area.
Who I Am
As the Mars Global Surveyor program manager, I am officially responsible
for "program formulation, external advocacy, establishing policy, defining
the objectives and requirements, allocating resources and assessing performance
of the project." But really, my job is to try to facilitate the work of
a superb group of managers, engineers, scientists and technicians at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who, working with Lockheed Martin Astronautics
(LMA) in Denver, Colorado, are building and will operate the Mars Global
My Career Journey
My background does not readily lend itself to managing space programs.
When I was growing up I wanted to be an oceanographer. I took as many
math and science courses as my small high school offered to prepare myself
for college. But my family has a long history of military service and
I felt it was my duty to serve my country also.
I applied to several colleges in Hawaii, Rhode Island and Texas for
oceanography programs. Texas A&M was doubly intriguing; I applied for
an ROTC scholarship there, as well as to the oceanographic program. I
also applied to the U.S. Naval Academy. I was accepted at all of them!
The unique opportunity to attend the Academy stood out so I accepted an
appointment there. I took a lot of math, science and engineering courses,
and graduated in 1981 as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy with a Bachelor of
Science degree. I was stationed in Guam, where I forecast typhoons; in
Monterey California, where I worked with global climate models; on a deep
ocean survey ship, where we did bottom surveys in both the Atlantic and
Pacific Oceans (we went through the Panama Canal!!); and in San Diego,
where I worked in a field office for the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA,
now part of NIMA). While I was stationed in San Diego, I went to night
school and got my M.S. degree in Systems Management at USC. When I left
active duty in 1988, I moved straight to Washington DC to work for DMA
as a civilian.
So, what does all this have to do with NASA and Mars?! Absolutely nothing,
directly. The math, science and engineering background, however, was very
I applied for a program analyst position at NASA Headquarters in 1991.
After a few years analyzing the budget and schedule/cost performance of
many different space science programs, I started to get bored. One of
my supervisors gave me the opportunity to move into the program management
area. I assisted the person who was then managing the Mars Observer mission.
After Mars Observer was lost, I moved into the management of several smaller
Discovery-class missions: the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and the Mars
Pathfinder mission. When Congress allowed NASA to start the Mars Surveyor
Program, I was fortunate enough to be selected to manage the first mission
in that series, the Mars Global Surveyor.
Why I Like My Job
The job required a lot of on-the-job training, extra classes and seminars,
but boy, is it worth it!! The best part of my job is working closely with
the real experts at JPL and LMA. You can learn so much if you just listen
and ask questions. And let's face it, working with the team building the
next Mars orbiter is about as neat a job as anyone could imagine!
I spend quite a bit of time on travel, to JPL and other sites for project
reviews, or participation in study teams. I also am now the acting resource
manager for NASA's Office of Space Science, so I am doing two jobs now,
which really keeps me busy!
I'm married to a communications/electrical engineer who works for a
consulting company, and we don't have any children. I do have two very
spoiled cats, named Bug and Ashburn, and just spent a weekend looking
for a horse to buy. I love to go horseback riding, and I've started sailing
competitively again this summer (something I did while in college and
in the Navy). My husband builds and flies remote-control airplanes. I
grew up in upstate New York, but now live in Reston, Virginia; near enough
to downtown DC to commute to work every day but far enough in the country
that the deer eat my flowers all summer!
I would like to stay with NASA the next several years to see how the
"New NASA" shakes out, and see all the new missions on the drawing board
actually fly. Once I decide to leave, we will probably move further west
in Virginia, so I can have my horse on my own property, and I will probably
work for one of the small spacecraft companies in the region.