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Meet: Tim Schofield

Planetary Scientist, Mars Pathfinder
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California


What I Do

I am a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. At the moment I am the leader of the Mars Pathfinder Atmospheric Structure Investigation / Meteorology (ASI/MET) experiment science team. This team is studying the weather data returned by the ASI/MET experiment during the 83 days it was working on the atmosphere of Mars. Most of what I do at JPL involves working with teams of engineers to design and build scientific instruments to measure the atmospheres of other planets from spacecraft, but I also like to work on the data that come back from these instruments when I get a chance.

My Career Journey

I am English, and I started work in planetary science in England. I studied physics at college and went on to study atmospheric physics afterwards. I had always been interested in meteorology and astronomy and this led me toward a research project that involved building an instrument to study the atmosphere of the planet Venus from the orbiting spacecraft Pioneer Venus. During this project, I travelled to California and JPL several times and got to know a lot of planetary scientists in America. After working on the data from Pioneer Venus for several years in England, I got an offer to come and work at JPL to build the same sort of instrument to look at the atmosphere of Mars. These instruments are called infrared sounders, and measure the heat coming from atmospheres to make maps of temperature and the different gases in the atmosphere. At JPL I spent many years designing and building an instrument that finally flew on the ill-fated Mars Observer spacecraft that blew up only three days before it got to Mars. One good result of that experience is that I joined the Mars Pathfinder project and became involved in building the completely different types of instruments needed for a weather station on the surface of Mars.

My Family and I

I am 44 and married with three children. I have a daughter in 11th grade and sons in 8th and 5th grades. My two oldest children were born in England, but my youngest was born here and is therefore an American. In the first few weeks after Mars Pathfinder landed my family got to see me a lot on TV. They are still laughing!

The Future

In the near future I will study the data that have come back from our Mars Pathfinder instrument. As Pathfinder work comes to an end, I plan to move over more to the Mars 98 Orbiter project which I have been working on at a low level for the last few years. We have rebuilt the instrument that blew up on Mars Observer and it should be launched on the Mars 98 spacecraft in December 1998. Hopefully it will get there safely this time, and map the atmosphere of Mars for many years. I plan to study that data to try and understand how the atmosphere of Mars works.

Advice

Mars Pathfinder was an exciting project to be in, but behind all the fireworks on July 4 was a team of 200 people who had worked very hard on all the details for three or four years. If you want to become part of something like that, it means a lot of work getting training as an engineer or a scientist. On the downside, the work is always too hard and too difficult, but on the upside it is always interesting, you are never bored, and the end result is really worthwhile. If you are lucky, you may play a part in something like Mars Pathfinder.


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