NASA DEVELOP @ GSFC: Katrina Laygo & Melissa Oguamanam

Today let us introduce you to Katrina Laygo and Melissa Oguamanam from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Melissa and Katrina are the Center Leads for the DEVELOP Program’s Goddard location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues. 

Melissa Oguamanam & Katrina Laygo | Image Credit: Melanie Rosenberg
Melissa Oguamanam and Katrina Laygo, GSFC DEVELOP Center Leads
Image Credit: Melanie Rosenberg

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?

Katrina: During one winter quarter at UCLA, a DEVELOP student visited our Geography Department and gave a presentation on the program with examples of projects that had been completed. I was so impressed with how direct of an impact these DEVELOP students were making on their communities and how closely they brought NASA Earth observations to addressing environmental concerns. Before that point, I did not know how I could be involved with NASA, and had very little background knowledge on the agency. DEVELOP opened up an incredible opportunity to contribute to the agency and to the nation. 
Melissa at GSFC | Image Credit: Luciano Rodriguez

Melissa: I first read about DEVELOP at NASA Goddard in an email from my academic adviser the summer before my senior year of undergrad. My eyes widened and I knew it was an opportunity that I could not pass up and immediately began working on my application. I felt that this internship program was the perfect fit for me. When I applied, I was hoping for an opportunity to work with NASA scientists to use geospatial technology to examine issues in Earth science and apply what I had learned in school to real world problems. Little did I know that my experience with the DEVELOP Program would encompass all of the above and more! 

What interests you the most about Earth science? 

Katrina: On my childhood bookshelf was the World Book Encyclopedia Set (Children’s Edition). Along with my bicycle and my art supplies, this was probably one of my favorite possessions. I remember reading about incredible places such as Angel Falls in Venezuela – the highest waterfall in the world – the great depths of the Mariana Trench, the Mississippi River, Rafflesia flowers blooming in Borneo, and the Cape of Good Hope. This added to my curiosity about the natural world around me and inspired me to someday visit these places (I’m happy to say that I’ve checked the Cape of Good Hope off my list). The aspect about Earth science that interests me the most is studying the processes by which these natural wonders formed in great detail with the application of remote sensing, and to better understand how they affect us, and how we affect them. I am most interested in oceanography and biogeography. 

Melissa: Everything: its complexity, mystery, and beauty. The Earth is a reflection of many events that occur in life. It is so powerful. It is powerful enough to support life and provide all the resources needed to sustain life. And it is also powerful enough to be destructive at the same time. I am amazed about how everything on Earth is connected and how the Earth is always changing. By just walking outside and observing your surroundings, you can learn something new about the Earth every day. 

What role does NASA play in your life/career?

Melissa: Whether it is assisting with weather forecasting and emergency disaster management, or providing Earth observing satellite imagery for studying deforestation, NASA plays a huge role in my life and career both directly and indirectly. NASA is playing a huge role in creating tools to monitor the Earth, establishing historical records of changes that have occurred. It is up to us as Earth scientists to make use of all this data, understand it, and apply it for better environmental management and policy decisions. 

Katrina at Kennedy Space Center | Image Credit: Melissa Ogumanam

Katrina: NASA has inspired me to be a leader, to broaden my scientific research and communication skills, and to challenge myself to both pursue and create opportunities that I otherwise would not have considered. I thoroughly enjoy the people I work with at NASA and have created lasting relationships with my fellow interns and my mentors. Before my participation in DEVELOP, I had not considered pursuing a graduate degree. I am now a M.A. candidate for International Science and Technology Policy, with a concentration in Space Policy, at the George Washington University. I am considering how to shape an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Earth Science and Geodetic Engineering, bringing my space policy experience from GWU. NASA nurtured my love for science, engineering, and policy and I am inspired by the challenges – intimidating at times – that these disciplines bring. In the spirit of the Mars Curiosity Rover slogan: I want to “dare mighty things.” 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Melissa: So far, I would say that my greatest accomplishment is deciding to enter the challenging STEM field. I look forward to the many possibilites that will come about from joining this exciting and growing field. The sky is the limit! 

Katrina: I am very proud of how I have been able to directly apply my education in Geography and Environmental Studies from UCLA and in International Science and Technology Policy from GWU to my career experiences and vice versa. It was such a dream come true to have sat in my UCLA Geography Lab during Spring Quarter, conducting an ecological forecasting project using NASA Earth observations, and then to have found myself at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that summer working on a similar project! Being surrounded by incredibly talented and welcoming scientists and engineers and working at a legendary institution, it felt very surreal at times. Attending graduate school in Washington, D.C. has greatly engaged me with the policy community and enhanced my ability to communicate with a variety of end users. 

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?
Katrina at JPL | Image Credit: Seth GorelikKatrina: When I entered college, I started as a Film Production major. There were days when I worked 18 hours on film sets or was stuck in the infamous Los Angeles traffic with multiple location film shoots. As a consequence, I have learned that the academic and career path you choose is also a lifestyle decision. I did not feel that this was the educational path and lifestyle I wanted to have. I loved film making, but I also loved studying the natural environment. After much consideration, I became a Geography and Environmental Studies major and I have not looked back since. I greatly appreciate the skills I gained from film school and still have a love for visual storytelling. With DEVELOP, we have filmed short documentaries of our projects for the public. Hosted by Earthzine, these videos are a fantastic way to communicate the benefits of NASA Earth science to a broad audience. I have enjoyed applying skills gained from film school to these videos!

MelissaI struggled withdeciding whether to enter graduate school directly after undergrad or waiting until after I gained some additional work experience. I decided to apply to graduateschool during my senior year to keep my options open. I was accepted into acouple of strong graduate programs, so when the time came to make a decision Iwas happy to have programs to choose from when I finally decided that I did want to go tograd school later in the year. I learned that it is good to keep your optionsopen in case exciting opportunities arise.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

MelissaI would say that my family is the biggest influence in my life. They have instilled in me the value of being grateful for all the opportunities that come my way. They also inspire me to never forget where I come from and to give back to my community. 

Katrina: My parents and my sister are the biggest influences in my life. They always keep me grounded and endlessly encourage me to pursue my academic and career endeavors. My father is an architect, my mother is a registered nurse, and my sister is an EMT with aspirations for medical school. I am so inspired by their accomplishments and their perseverance between work and life at home and in school. They take pride in what they do and it is humbling to watch them in action. I am grateful for their love and support. 

How has your academic or professional career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?

Melissa conducting fieldwork in a Florida mangrove forest | Image Credit: Katrina LaygoMelissa: In college, I studied Geography. I’m still an early career scientist. I never expected to be working at NASA completing earth science research projects. I was surprised about the amount of opportunity available with DEVELOP internship program such as working with amazing scientists, performing field work, attending seminars, and presenting my research. The journey has been amazing so far. 

Katrina: I am currently a M.A. candidate in International Science and Technology Policy, with a concentration in Space Policy, at the George Washington University. My research interests are in assessing the challenges of maritime security and disaster management in Southeast Asia and their implications for the economic, political, and security environments in the region. 

What does your future hold?

Katrina: Becoming a leader in the space industry. Traveling the world. Pursuing Earth science research in Southeast Asia. Engaging in science diplomacy. Integrating my educational and career experiences into humanitarian causes. Space travel. 

Melissa: I definitely want to stay in the geospatial technology field. With the growing human population and more people moving into urban areas, there is a need to address, manage, and analyze the ever-changing landscape and environmental concerns using specialized tools. I would like to use the skills I learn as a GIS/Remote Sensing Scientist to help manage and solve environmental issues that occur around the world and in West Africa in particular. I would love to be involved with projects that deal with agriculture and food policy, urban ecology, terrestrial ecosystems, wild fires, deforestation, and environmental health. Participating in the evolving African space industry has been a dream of mine as well.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story?

Melissa: Take advantage of opportunities made available to you. Preparation is key. Research, study, hone your craft, gain valuable skills, and know how to market yourself. And then go for it! It’s never too late to start over and work with what you have to reach your goals. Review the issues you need to overcome, make a plan, and begin from there.

Katrina: Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t doubt yourself or your abilities. Whether this is in speaking up at a meeting, participating in a class discussion, accepting a challenging task, asking for guidance from your science advisors, or in networking at a conference – those are just a few of many examples. It has been very challenging for me at times to follow through with this, but when I have done so, it has been immensely rewarding!

NASA DEVELOP: Yanina G. Colberg

Today let us introduce you to Yanina G. Colberg from the Wise County/City of Norton Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Yanina is a Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Wise County, VA location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Hoy quisiera introducir a Yanina G. Colberg del Condado de Wise/Ciudad de Norton de la Oficina de la Secretaría de la Corte de Circuito. Yanina es la Administradora del Programa de DEVELOP que está localizado en Wise County, Virginia. El Programa de NASA DEVELOP consiste en investigaciones dirigidas por estudiantes que se enfocan en el uso de observaciones de la Tierra hechas por sistemas de satélites de la NASA para dirigirse a las preocupaciones de la comunidad y las decisiones de las politicas públicas.

Yanina G. Colberg, NASA DEVELOP Wise County Center Lead

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?

What inspired me to apply to DEVELOP was a desire to grow professionally and I saw DEVELOP as an opportunity where I could learn something new every day. DEVELOP promotes STEM and with my science background it is a good fit for me because I am learning and gaining work experience while I complete my studies. One of the things that made it very appealing to apply was the fact that I would be learning new techniques through software such as ArcGIS and other tools that I didn’t know and I was able to learn. Also, DEVELOP allowed me to meet a lot of cool and interesting people that helped me through the learning process. DEVELOP helps communities (both domestic and international) to address their environmental issues with the aim of enhancing policies and decision making.

¿Qué te inspiró aplicar a DEVELOP?

Lo que me inspiró solicitar al programa DEVELOP fue el deseo que tenía para crecer profesionalmente y vi DEVELOP como una oportunidad donde yo podría aprender algo nuevo todos los días. DEVELOP promueve STEM y con mi trasfondo en la Ciencia era apropiado para mí. Adicionalmente, estoy aprendiendo y ganando experiencia laboral mientras completo mis estudios. Una de las cosas que me motivó a solicitar fue el hecho de aprender nuevas técnicas a través de “software” como ArcGIS y otras herramientas las cuales no conocía y fui capaz de aprender. También, DEVELOP me ha permitido conocer mucha gente estupenda e interesante que me han ayudado en mi proceso de aprendizaje. DEVELOP ayuda a comunidades (ambas domestica e internacional) haciendo referencia en situaciones ambientales con el objetivo de mejorar las pólizas y las tomas de decisiones.

What interests you most about Earth science?

Earth science has always interested me even as a kid, it was very interesting to learn how planet Earth works and to understand how one person can do little things to help our planet. For me remote sensing and the use of satellite data are particularly valuable and these areas are what interest me the most. You can use all the data to illustrate how changes occur in different parts of the world. By applying NASA satellite data and tools we can see which areas of our planet are being affected and we can perform research that will lead to well informed decisions on what different countries can do to restore these areas.

¿Qué es lo más que te interesa de la Ciencia Terrestre?

La Ciencia Terrestre siempre me ha interesado, cuando era una niña encontraba bien interesante aprender como el planeta Tierra trabaja e incluso aprender cómo una persona puede aportar aún en medidas pequeñas para ayudar el planeta. Para mí la Teledetección y el uso de data satelital son particularmente valiosas y son estas las áreas que mas me interesan. Podemos utilizar toda la data para ilustrar como los cambios ocurren en diferentes partes del mundo. Mediante la aplicación de la data y herramientas de los satélites de NASA podemos determinar las áreas en nuestro planeta que están afectadas, esto es conducente a la investigación que a su vez nos guía a informarnos sobre lo que diferentes países pueden hacer para restaurar las áreas afectadas tomando decisiones de calidad. 

What role does NASA play in your life/career?

NASA helps me to understand how the planet Earth works and it has opened a lot of doors for me. I am able to learn something different every day. I am so proud to say that I am working with this organization because I believe I am helping make change for the better. I also find it interesting that I have the opportunity to do a lot more than just research. I am able to communicate with other people (clients, science advisors, researchers, etc.) in a professional way and learn how to develop both science and business skills by interacting with them.

¿Qué papel juega la NASA en tú vida/carrera?

NASA me ha estimulado a un desarrollo comprensivo ilimitado y proporcionado un mundo de oportunidades prácticas que me han llevado a nuevos niveles de conocimiento sobre como el planeta Tierra trabaja. Adicionalmente, se han abierto muchas puertas para mí. Estoy bien orgullosa de decir que estoy trabajando con esta organización porque me siento que estoy contribuyendo en cambios de mejoras para bien. También encuentro interesante tener la oportunidad de hacer mucho más que solo investigación. Me capacita para la comunicación con otros; clientes, asesores científicos, investigadores en el ámbito profesional y aprendo cómo desarrollar ambas habilidades en la ciencia y el negocio interactuando con ellos.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I think every challenge that I face I accomplish and I always do my best to achieve it. I am in the process of acquiring my master’s degree while I continue working for DEVELOP and I think that I am in a great place. I work with amazing people and produce projects to help other countries. I love what I do and to do something that matters is my biggest accomplishment.

¿Qué consideras tu mayor logro?

Yo pienso que cada reto que enfrento lo completo y siempre hago mi mayor esfuerzo para lograrlo. Estoy en el proceso de obtener mi grado de maestría mientras continúo trabajando en DEVELOP y pienso que estoy en un gran lugar. Yo trabajo con gente maravillosa y producimos proyectos para ayudar otros países. Yo amo lo que hago y hacer algo que realmente importa es mi mayor logro.

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?

Every day I have to make different decisions but one that was most difficult for me was to move to follow my dreams. I come from Puerto Rico and I was a little afraid that maybe I was trying to do something in my life that may not work and I wanted to succeed, I want to be someone in my life that does something to help the people of the world and that opportunity was in the United States working with the DEVELOP Program. It is not easy to be away from family, but when you really want something you have to go and get it. Now I have not only developed more skills professionally, but I have also gained another family. I learned to take the risk no matter what happens, because you always learn and gain experiences that will be useful further along in life. 

¿Puede usted describir un tiempo donde haya tomado una decisión difícil y que aprendiste por las consecuencias?

Todos los días tengo que tomar numerosas decisiones, pero la decisión más difícil fue relocalizarme fuera de mi tierra para alcanzar mis sueños. Yo soy de Puerto Rico fue un gran paso para mi apartarme de mi hogar e inevitable el sentimiento de duda cuando se trataba de los resultados, quiero tener éxito. Por otro lado tenía bien claro que mis oportunidades para ser parte de algo significativo y edificar en mi futuro haciendo lo que me gusta apoyando iniciativas y personas alrededor del mundo era en los Estados Unidos desarrollando mis talentos a través del programa DEVELOP. No es fácil estar lejos de mi familia, pero cuando verdaderamente quieres algo tienes que ir tras ello. Actualmente, no solo he desarrollado mi capacidad profesional y mi carácter, también he encontrado una nueva familia. He aceptado los cambios y ajustes y he aprendido a confiar en mi naturaleza e instintos. A través de esta vivencia he adquirido conocimiento que es y será útil largos años por venir. 

Yanina G. Colberg at LaRC Hangar

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

Every person in my life influences me, but the people that influence me the most are my parents and my husband. My parents always believe in me and they told me to always follow my dreams. My husband supports me in everything that I do and he tells me all the time that I have to do what makes me happy. My family is always there for me no matter what and helps me when I need them the most. 

¿Quién ha sido la mayor influencia en tu vida, y que lección te enseñaron?

Yo firmemente creo que todas las personas en nuestro camino tocan nuestras vidas, pero las personas que más me han influenciado han sido mis padres y mi esposo. Mis padres siempre han creído en mí y siempre me dijeron que siguiera mis sueños. Mi esposo me apoya en todo lo que yo hago y él me dice todo el tiempo que debo hacer aquello que me hace feliz. Mi familia siempre ha estado presente en mi vida no importa la situación y me ayudan cuando más los necesito.

What would you like to study in college? How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?

I am currently doing a Master’s in Space Studies with a Concentration in Remote Sensing and working with DEVELOP. I had a great opportunity to be part of the DEVELOP Program and it has surprised me in many different ways. I am able to do research in collaboration with students in other countries, something that I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do. All of the people that work with me have different backgrounds and we constantly learn from each other. Each of us is unique and we help each other so that at the end we have a valuable final product for our partners. I love to show people what I do and like to get involved in everything that I can in order to make a positive impact in my community and hopefully one day the world.

¿Qué te gustaría estudiar en la Universidad? ¿Cómo tu carrera te ha sorprendido y te ha dado oportunidades inesperadas?

Actualmente estoy haciendo una maestría en Estudios del Espacio con una concentración en Teledetección y además trabajo con DEVELOP. He tenido una gran experiencia educativa siendo parte del programa DEVELOP; El conocimiento adquirido dirigiendo proyectos exploratorios y analítica acerca del medioambiente en diversas partes del mundo ha sido de proporción inmensurable. Yo dirijo un equipo de estudiantes brillantes en la investigación del medioambiente en otros países, algo que nunca imaginé tendría la oportunidad de hacer. Todos los miembros del equipo vienen de diferentes trasfondos y constantemente hemos aprendido uno del otro, todos extraordinarios. Trabajamos arduamente para presentar un producto conclusivo de calidad para nuestros asociados de negocios. Me encanta enseñar a otros  lo que hago y me gusta involucrarme en todo lo que pueda para tener un impacto positivo en mi comunidad y ojalá algún día en el mundo.

What does your future hold?

In the future I see myself doing big things. I would like to be working in the space industry and collaborating with other scientific minds. I will never stop learning, I want to do a PhD and keep helping people. Apart from the professional field, I want to have a big family in the future. 

¿Qué es lo que te espera el futuro?

En el futuro me veo haciendo cosas grandes. Me gustaría trabajar en la Industria Espacial colaborando con otras mentes científicas. Yo nunca pararé de aprender, quiero obtener un Doctorado y seguir ayudando gente, aparte de mi campo profesional quiero tener una familia grande.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story?

A piece of advice to everyone is to follow your dreams and nurture what makes you happy. Always believe in yourself, trust your instincts in the way to attain your goals. Ultimately it is purpose what will drive you to accomplishments, make sure a define purpose leads your way.  

¿Qué consejo te gustaría dar a quién lee tu historia?

Un consejo para todos, es que vayan tras sus sueños y nutre lo que te hace feliz. Siempre cree en ti mismo, confía en tus instintos para llegar al camino de alcanzar tus metas. Finalmente, lo que te guiará a obtener tus logros es el propósito que inspira a lograr las metas. Hay que asegurarse de que el propósito esté bien definido.

Yanina G. Colberg at ESRI


Today let us introduce you to Amber Kuss from NASA Ames Research Center. Amber is the Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Ames location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on utilizing NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Amber Kuss, Ames Research Center DEVELOP Center Lead Image credit: Carl Bean-Larson
Image Credit: Carl Bean-Larson

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?
While I was working on my master’s degree at SanFrancisco State University, I became engaged in GIS and remote sensing throughcoursework, however it was a fellow classmate who inspired me to apply forDEVELOP. Michelle Newcomer, a previous DEVELOP Center Lead, gave apresentation during our Hydrogeology class about projects she had been workingon using remote sensing for wetland restoration. Her excitement and professionalism impressedme, and I was drawn to the idea of being able to conduct hands-on research. 

What interests you most about Earth science?
Our personal connections to nature and the rolehumans play in natural resource management interests me the most about Earth science. As an undergraduate student, Ihad the opportunity to participate in an intensive field work course in thesouthwestern U.S. This course allowed me to primarily focus on field work andexploration, and this really sparked a continuing passion for Earth science. As a current researcher, I amfascinated by the influence of technology and engineering in Earth science, andhow we can study geological and ecological phenomena from hundreds of milesaway. I think that with this emergenttechnology, the progression of Earth science will increase dramatically.

What role does NASA play in your life/career?
Thegreatest role of NASA in my life and certainly my career are the people I havethe opportunity to work with. Coming towork every day and being surrounded by some of the most intelligent people onthe planet challenges you to think intellectually and allows you to be creativeand unrestricted in your research ideas.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
As a young adult, I would have said my greatestaccomplishment was winning the state golf championship when I was 16. However, as my career in science isprogressing, my most current accomplishment is the completion of my master’sdegree. When I submitted my monstrousthesis into the printing office, I felt pretty great!

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence? 
One of the greatest decisions of my life and career was the decision to go back to school for my master’s degree. After I obtained a B.S. in Geoscience fromthe College of Charleston, I began working for an Environmental Consulting firmas a Staff Geologist. At first, the jobwas ideal; I was making more money than I ever had before, I had free time toenjoy the city and the beach, and I was working in my chosen field. However, after about six months, I began towonder if I was not challenging myself enough intellectually. I then began toapply for master’s programs all over the country, and decided on a few inCalifornia. While it was difficult todecide on the right place to attend, one of the largest obstacles was movingacross the country to a place where I had never spent much time, and where Iknew no one. While this was daunting, Igathered up my courage, and made the leap. What I gained surpassed my expectations, and I began to think aboutacademia and science as a career. Ilearned that the greatest challenges in life can sometimes be the mostrewarding, and I will now always be open to turning my life upside down for thebenefits that come with change.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you? 
My father is quite a character; his long hair, loudmouth, and uncompromising attitude towards just about anything in life may leadpeople to think he is a wild guy. Whilethis may be true, my father has influenced my life in so many ways frominstilling the ideals of hard work, to a focus on the environment and how weinteract with it, and for his never-ending skepticism. As a past employee for the Indiana Departmentof Environmental Management, he worked for over 20 years to face tough issuesof water contamination and pollution from large industrial facilities, such asthe steel mills along Lake Michigan. Healways displayed a passion for his work and taught me a great deal about thedifficulties of environmental regulation. He has also taught me to face challengesin life head on, and to be open to new opportunities, like when he left a jobhe held for over 20 years to become the manager of the sanitation district forMichigan City, Indiana. He has shown me that I don’t have to compromise mybeliefs and plans for the future and that with hard work we can help to improveour life and others.

How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities? 
My career with NASA has really pushed me to pursuemy academic journey. I began in theDEVELOP Program while in my master’s program at San Francisco StateUniversity. When I first began, I thoughtI would just obtain my master’s and move into a career. However, being able towork on real-world research and working with other students sparked my interestin pursuing academia and becoming a professor. I am now a PhD student at theUniversity of California, Santa Cruz in the Environmental Studies Department. Additionally, my work with our partneragencies has opened me up in new ways to the idea of scientific communicationand I am passionate about working as a bridge to ensure that scientificresearch will be beneficial to the community. In order for science to bedirectly useful to our society, we must be able to speak with people of alldifferent backgrounds and take our heads out of the “researchers’ realm” tomake our science useful.

What does your future hold? 
I am hopeful that at some point in the future I willbe able to get that elusive “Dr.” in front of my name, but more importantly, Ihope to work as a teacher to the next generation of scientists. It is my goalto work either at a university or in a government career that allows me toconnect researchers and students back to their community.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story? 
I would advise young professionals and students totake risks and be open to major changes in your life. Don’t be afraid tototally change your outlook, career path, or research plans. These changesallow us to think outside the box, and be connected with new experience thatwill help expand our intellectual thinking. Oh yeah, and have some fun!

To the Moon and Beyond…

When one of our own blog readers suggested I write a story about Maria Zuber, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a most invigorating conversation with a woman who has taken multitasking to an admirable level.  Dr. Zuber is the first woman to lead a NASA Robotics mission, having been selected for the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission to the moon.  This position is in addition to being the head of the Massachusets Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, an active professor guiding multiple doctoral students in their own quest towards a Ph.D., and a mother and wife in her private life.  


Dr. Zuber was selected to lead the GRAIL mission in 2008 because she was the best choice, as noted by selection committee member Alan Stern.  Dr. Zuber’s task was to lead over 80 engineers on the $400 million project that aims to send two small orbiters to the moon to study its gravitational field. 


Here’s my interview with her, which I think you will find informative and intriguing.  Thank you, Dr. Zuber for taking the time to share your story, science, and words of wisdom for our young women and girls.  I hope they see in you the possibilities.  The success.  The drive.  The balance.  And, most of all, the neutralization of gender in science. 


Mamta: Well, it looks like GRAIL had a great new year with the launch of both space probes and successful insertion into Lunar orbit.  Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about the inspiration for GRAIL and what you ultimately hope to achieve.


MZ: From the time the first satellites were sent to orbit the moon to identify landing sites for Apollo, the presence of mascons [mass concentration containing a large positive gravitational anomaly] has been known but not well understood.  Even 40 years since Apollo, we still do not understand mascons and the gravitational field of the moon.  Nor how it relates to the inside of the moon and what it means for the moon’s evolution.  For those of us in the community of geophysics, gaining a more thorough understanding of the gravitational field is a top objective. 


Mamta:  When will we start getting data back from GRAIL, if not already?


MZ: Right now, the spacecraft is doing series of maneuvers that will get it into a mapping orbit.  The data collection will begin during the first week of March of this year. We do not expect to see a gravity field during that first week of data collection though.  The moon has to rotate under the spacecraft so after a month, we can produce a gravity field.  However, we don’t expect it be our best gravity field, but it will be way better than what we have currently.  Moreover, we presume that we will be able to see very high spatial resolution features such as the wings of major basins, large density variations in the lunar mantle, and evidence of melting.  The variations in the density of the crust are associated with intrusions or materials broken up in impacts.  To be honest, though, the largest probablity is that we will see things of which we have no idea because we have never had this type of graviational field:  the things we cannot possibly anticipate because we do not have the knowledge to anticipate them.


Mamta:  I read that your interest in space science began when you saw pictures of Jupiter from the Voyager mission.  Can you tell us more about your inspiration to go into science?


MZ:  Well, I was actually always interested in space.  When I was young, I built my own telescope, grounded my own optics, and then eventually I majored in astronomy and astrophysics in college.  However, when I first saw the pictures of Jupiter, that’s when I decided I would go into planetary science.  At that time, I was debating between astrophyics or aersopace engineering.  But those pictures defined my calling.  I thought to myself, No one had ever seen that before.  I believe that you are bound to have big discoveries when you produce something that no one has seen.  You don’t need a lab to find discoveries.  It’s a high risk but high return type of field because if you can get the spacecraft to its destination successfully, the images are discoveries.


Mamta: What advice would you give a young girl about a career in science?


MZ:  Sometimes girls don’t like to look like they are too smart in front of boys because they think boys don’t want to date smart girls.  But, I say do what you like and if some guy doesn’t want to date you because you are intelligent, then you don’t want to date him anyway!  Follow your passion, and things will work out.


Mamta:  Are there any challenges to being a female in your field? 


MZ: For me, it was probably when I missed work after I had my children.  I took six months off for each of of them and during that time I missed the Magellan mission.  But, I don’t regret it one bit, and I treasure every moment that I have spent with my family.  It’s a necessity to balance family and work.  When I won GRAIL, I was told that I was the first woman to lead a NASA planetary mission, but that was it.  It was just an  announcement. I don’t think I was treated any better or worse because I am a woman; I was not treated any differently.  I give NASA credit for handling the entire selection the way they did.  To be honest, a lot of people have contributed to GRAIL and the whole mission is non-hierarchical.  Whoever has knowledge is who we listen to the closest!  Everyone gets their say. 


Mamta: It is one of Women@NASA’s loftiest goals to encourage young girls to enter STEM fields.  I know GRAIL has the MoonKAM project to achieve this objective as well.   Can you tell us more? 


MZ: I consider it to be a huge privilege to use tax payer money to explore the solar system.  I take that very seriously and believe the public deserves to play a role in understanding it.  I am personally devoted to using space science in education.  For GRAIL, we wanted to do a wildy creative outreach program so when I was selected, I immediately went to Sally Ride, who has been inspirational to so many people and who has devoted herself to education.  She was very excited to a part of it and decided to expand her EarthKAM program that is currently part of the ISS program.  We decided to devote imaging of the moon fully to this education outreach.  Our target age group was middle school because at this age, the kids have to make the decision of taking more challenging science and math classes.  For MoonKAM, we decided to use rocket cameras [the kind that allow us to see the Space Shuttle launches on TV] because they are relatively inexpensive and are quite good.  We put four cameras on each spacecraft for GRAIL.  We went over budget,  but it was so important for us that we did it anyway.  For MoonKAM, middles schools can sign up to be a part of the project and the students will learn to use the software to select areas of the moon to image.  We may not get all of the suggested images, but we will get as many as we can.  We will then post the images online and the students can use the pictures to learn something about the moon.  In order for them to choose good sites, they will learn to use concepts of science, engineering, and math as it applies to collecting and analyzing data.  In fact, we have accepted the probablility that the kids will make discoveries!  I think we have proven that it is possible to do very creative things in science.  We are thrilled to have over 2100+ schools signed up, representing all 50 states.  Everyone can be a part space exploration! 


Mamta:  Finally.  The question I have been waiting for.  What is your favorite planet and why?  J


MZ [laughs]: Today it’s the moon!  Actually, my favorite planet is the one I am  working on at any given time.  Mars, Mercury, and even asteroids.  I love to go after some problem of how the planets got to be they way they are today, and how I can add more to the knowledge base of where we came from. It’s impossible to underscore the thrill of being able to do this for a living.

Women in History Shout Out

“I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in We, the people.”

-Barbara Jordan

(1936 – 1996) American lawyer, politician and teacher. She served in the Texas Senate (1967–1973) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1973-1979).

May Janice Voss Rest in Peace

I used to hang out at Janice’s house as a co-op.  She was an active astronaut at that time and one of my closest friends was renting a room from her.  You can, thus, only imagine the shock with which I took the news of her passing Tuesday overnight, losing her battle to cancer at the young age of 55. 

That’s two people we have lost to cancer this week, just mere days after I posted about funding cancer research.  I doubt I need to be more clear. 

Here’s to fighting the fight.  May you rest in peace, Janice.  You will be missed. 

A Feature: One of Our Own Women at NASA

In continuing our celebration of the great women around us, here’s a story that found its way into my inbox by chance.  I was in overwhelming support to post this on our blog as these are the stories I love to hear.  These are the stories that stand as reasons on why I took this post.  These are the stories that well up my own pride in Women@NASA.


Janice Hall is the director of the Business and Institutional Management Office within the Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  Since Janice took over management of this office, she has continually worked towards and supported innovative solutions ranging from strategic communication inside and outside our parent organization (Space Life Sciences), to collaboration-focused information systems tools used to improve daily work activities, and Open Source technology applied to cross-organizational collaborative engineering and life sciences solutions.  Through it all, Janice has been more than a manager – she has led her employees by example, embracing appropriate changes in work and communication, and always keeping an eye out for ways to do more with the resources available.


The most recent of these collaborative projects started with the Spring 2011 Innovation & Inclusion Team’s Innovation Charge Account proposal competition.  Janice partnered her Space Life Sciences resources together with Nick Skytland’s Open Government Initiative team to submit a proposal for the JSC CIO’s ICA competition, which won one of the charge accounts to fund innovative projects.  Over the course of the summer, members of her team and Nick’s team worked together to develop a Liquid Galaxy system, demonstrating the collaboration between NASA and Google for utilization of earth observation data in an immersive wrap-around environment.  The initial goal of the project, to demonstrate the immersive capabilities of an open source clustered computing solution, were met with great success.  The project was completed in time for the final outbrief presentations in September, and was requested by JSC Senior Management to be put on display in Building 1 from the end of October through the middle of January.


Beyond the initial activities of this project, Janice continued to support collaboration with Nick’s team, taking the functionality of the Liquid Galaxy exhibit to the next level.  Discussions emerged for potential collaboration with various public and private organizations: Space Center Houston; NASA’s own Goddard, Glenn, and Langley Research Centers as well as NASA Headquarters; and the Pentagon.  Several groups within Johnson Space Center have also requested collaborations on Liquid Galaxy or related technology spin-off projects: including Engineering Directorate’s robotics, telemetry, and future vehicle design groups; and Center Operation Directorate’s Emergency Operations Center and Dispatch Center groups.  Based on collaboration with ongoing Engineering Directorate projects, several Liquid Galaxy systems in and around Johnson Space Center have been adapted to run new software, including the Mars Rover Simulator, the Habitat Demonstration Unit virtual environment, and International Space Station assembly timeline movie to name just a few.


This project has provided an inexpensive solution in the tens of thousands of dollars for many projects that used to require hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to achieve similar results.  It also demonstrates the effectiveness of open source architecture for collaboration and utilization.  None of this would have been possible without Janice Hall’s keen leadership and desire to pursue innovative solutions for business and technology uses.

Women in History Shout Out

“I threw it down pretty good,” Georgeann Wells said, laughing. “It was a powerful one, because I was all by myself. I had the speed, I had the endurance to get it up there. It was awesome.”

[Historic dunk]

(1964- ) Georgeann Wells was a women’s basketball player at West Virginia University.  In 1984, she became the first women in NCAA history to dunk a basketball.  This feat was noted by opposing player Sherry Winn when she said, “For so long, women played below the rim. We weren’t as fast, and we didn’t have the same dribble moves as men did. For women’s basketball, it was a great event. It was a mark of something else to come.” However, in a time when media capture was more limited, the event was virtually unknown to those outside of the 100 or so fans who attended.  The opposing team’s coach did have a video of the game but refused to turn it over to media.  Years after his death, his son released the tape, which in turn proved the dunk happened. Ms. Well is now a mother of three and runs a summer adventure camp. 

Sources: ESPN and WSJ

Women's History Month Shout Out

“By blood, I am an Albanian.  By citizenship, I am Indian.  As to my calling, I belong to the world.” – Mother Teresa

(1910-1997) Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa, was a Roman Catholic nun from Albania who first traveled to India in 1931 when she taught school in Calcutta.  She founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950, which has since become a worldwide beacon of caring for others. Her observations of the poor in India gave her the motivation to further her reach, and in 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.