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Two intriguing investigations -- One flight-proven spacecraft

Nick Cowan

Nick Cowan

Graduate student, research assistant, U. Washington

Nick Cowan

What's the coolest thing about EPOXI?
The fact that it's a recycled spacecraft. I'm amazed at how versatile the little thing is.

Why do you like working at the University of Washington?
The University of Washington (UW) has a beautiful campus in a beautiful and exciting city close to mountains and the ocean. Seattle weather is temperate and the moist winters dump enormous amounts of snow on the mountains. The UW is a big public university so there are lots of opportunities to work with and teach a diverse cross-section of undergraduates. The Astronomy Department is very friendly and tight-knit, and there is an active and highly interdisciplinary astrobiology program here as well.

What is your job on the EPOXI mission?
I was brought on the team to convert the subtle flickering of a single pixel into a 1-D map of the planet. In other words, I construct multi-waveband longitudinal albedo maps of Earth based on the disk-averaged light curves of the unresolved planet.

How did you end up in Space Science?
I got my bachelor's degree in physics because two of my friends in CEGEP (the Quebec equivalent to community college) went into physics, so it was basically peer-pressure. My specialization in undergrad was in nuclear physics because I liked the guys I met working in that field, but I wasn't too hopeful about my job prospects as a nuclear physicist. I'd always had an interest in planets and science fiction, so astronomy seemed a logical place to end up.

What do you do in your spare time?
I take advantage of the outdoors: skiing, climbing, surfing, mountaineering, etc. I also like to take my bike to far-off places and pedal around for weeks on end. When the weather is crummy or I'm just feeling hungry, I like to cook big meals with my sweetheart.

Who in your life inspired you?
My family and friends. They still do.

What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
Learn to draw.

Were you science-oriented as a young person?
You bet.

What was your favorite book as a young person?
I was a big sucker for fantasy and sci-fi novels. I remember being really impressed with The Star Diaries by Stanislav Lem. It's like a Polish version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

What did you want to become when you were young?
First an architect, then a philosopher, then a mechanical engineer.

If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
Working on Artificial Intelligence, or maybe just playing Go.

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