EPOCh Science Collaborator, Goddard Space Flight Center
What's the coolest thing about EPOXI?
I think that the coolest thing about EPOXI - aside from the very interesting aspect of looking for new exoplanets - is that the EPOXI mission concept really makes the best use of a flawed instrument. Deep Impact was designed with a high resolution camera that was cold tested under conditions that left it permanently defocused. It turns out that planet transit data is best gathered from a camera that is slightly defocused so that the data are less sensitive to pixel-to-pixel variation in the detector. The PI and Co-I's of this mission recognized this as a great opportunity and have, essentially, turned lemons into lemonade by using the instrument for transit research.
Why do you like working at Goddard?
NASA/GSFC is a fantastic place to work as there are experts in many fields right on site. If you have an interest in any facet of astrophysics, planetary physics, space physics or Earth biosphere research there is an expert here that you can talk to and collaborate with. There is no limit to the networking one can do in such an environment.
What is your job on the EPOXI mission?
I work as a science collaborator on the EPOXI mission. In this capacity I work with planet transit data to attempt to refine and calibrate our measurements to achieve higher sensitivity to the very faint transit signature.
How did you end up in Space Science?
I took an atypical path to astronomy. Although I was interested in it from a very young age, I lived in a very poor farming area and my parents were unable to give me guidance on how to attend college after high school. As a result, I started work at the Diamond Crystal Salt plant in St. Clair, Michigan throwing 100 lb bags of salt from a wooden slat conveyor to a pallet - one every ten seconds or so. On a typical eight hour shift I would throw some 2300 bags or about 115 tons of salt. Often I would work more than one shift to try to make money to attend college. A robot eventually took my job, and having no other options and no money, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an F-16 technician. With the help of the G.I. Bill, I obtained a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Washington. The experience I had gained working on F-16s, together with my coursework, allowed me to land a position with NASA as a Space Shuttle engineer at Kennedy Space Center. Luckily, the F-16 was the first fly-by-wire fighter in the United States arsenal, and the Space Shuttle shared many of the same technological features. I then attended the Johns Hopkins University and obtained three graduate degrees and worked my way from spacecraft power systems engineer to astrophysicist over a period of 23 years.
What do you do in your spare time?
I listen to and am actively involved in bluegrass, celtic and old time music. I play the banjo - after a fashion - and enjoy going to music festivals. I am also keenly interested in the philosophy of religion and study many of the ancient texts and scholarly works.
Who in your life inspired you?
My old biology teacher at St. Clair High School. Mr. VanDeusen was a true polymath and a good friend who I would often go hiking with in Canada. He was a voracious reader and loved nature as no one else I have ever met. Mr. Van and his wife would collaborate on works of art involving photography and painting. I still recall sitting out with them under the dark sky in Canada watching satellites whiz by overhead.
What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
I would like to put a large telescope on Antarctica.
Were you science-oriented as a young person?
Yes. In fact, looking back, I remember one instance in particular that inspired my love of nature and fascination with a study of underlying causes in the physical world. When I was a boy of about 8 I recall walking into a darkened room in my home and switching on a light. My eyes happened to be focused on a mirror at the opposite end of the room when I did so and I saw an image of the light flash on in the mirror. I remember immediately wondering if the light took time to cross that distance and, if so, how long. I then began to wonder about the nature of light and, after discussing it with my older brother, was introduced to his high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Buell. He taught me some things in his gruff way and we became friends.
In thinking back on this just now, I do wish I had had some guidance to go to college out of high school... life could have been a little more straight forward. Ah, well. I made it anyway.
What was your favorite book as a young person?
I had a huge vegetable garden when I was a boy and had a favorite book about raising a garden on organic principles. I remember passages in it about how to plant corn in rows that were perpendicular to the prevailing wind to aid pollination. I remember a favorite matrix that showed how various squashes would cross if you planted them too close to one another. (One year I had a bumper crop of awful green pumpkins that were a result of putting that patch too near the zucchini. I learned my lesson from that - and a deeper appreciation for nature.)
What did you want to become when you were young?
An explorer of some sort. I used to revel in stories about the great arctic explorers.
If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
I could imagine being an archaeologist. Yeah... that would be cool.