I have a Masters degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St Louis, located in Missouri, USA. Before that, I attended a regular secondary school in Ohio.
I went to school and uni in the USA, so I don’t have GSCE or A-level numbers. I got mostly A’s in secondary school.
I started out at McDonalds, cooking burgers. I then got a uni summer job doing office work for a professor. After uni, I stayed in the departent for a couple of years getting experience. I then worked at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for 2 years doing Mars and Earth science research. I worked for 20 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California working on Venus, Earth, and Mars missions. Later we moved to Madrid where I worked on an instrument for the Curiosity rover, and am now in the UK working on ExoMars. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s 5 space missions, including 3 rover missions in 3 different countries — I have been very lucky!
I am currently helping plan mission operations for PanCam and the Franklin rover. That means we plan how to collect the best scientific data without putting the rover or PanCam in danger (for instance, don’t drive over a cliff or into sand dunes where you can’t get out.)
Favourite thing to do in my job: Interact with the rover team and other instrument teams to decide how we will operate the rover and PanCam on the rover.
I grew up in the 60s loving the space programme and have managed to have a career doing what I loved as a child.
My Work on the ExoMars Mission
I work with the engineers and scientists who built a colour 3D camera for the rover. Our pictures will teach us about the Martian surface and help the rover know where she is.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Only slightly obsessive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I've helped map Venus and been in mission control for 2 Mars rover landings (I'm hoping to make that a third landing soon!)
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My father was an engineer and I knew early on I wanted to do something in science or engineering, hopefully related to space (or insects, at one point!)
What was your favourite subject at school?
I was always split between math and science, and arts and literature. After I graduated from uni, I realised I almost had a minor degree in drama, mostly due to all of those film classes.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Something in science, but I was undirected. Finally, at uni I found a professor who studied Mars and got a summer job with him, which turned into a degree and a career. We are still in contact many years later.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I would have been too scared when I was younger, and then too worried about my grades and career when I was older.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I'm now too old to say professional baseball player...
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Flogging Molly, Amy Winehouse, female singers from the 50s and 60s
What's your favourite food?
Breakfast and brunch are my favourite meals. I also really like Mexican food.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I got to tour the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To have some talent in music or art; be able to talk to animals; learn to relax and enjoy life more.
Tell us a joke.
If an eel rushes out and bites on your snout, that's a moray.