SpaceX Starlink launch, June 2020

Academia is a Pyramid Scheme (Medium)

Space has been my career goal since I was a child. As a teenager, I began looking in earnest into what exactly that would entail, reaching out to local space advocacy groups and folks working in aerospace for guidance. From this I formulated my 5-step plan…

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Coming Back To Earth With Planetary Scientist Tanya Of Mars (Planet)

This is the third installment in our Stellar Minds series, where we profile Planet’s extraordinary employees and their accomplishments. Keep checking our blog for upcoming features on some of the most remarkable people in aerospace today.

I can remember exactly what first got me interested in space as a kid, and it’s probably not anything that would first come to mind for anyone: The movie Big Bird in Japan. In this film, Sesame Street’s Big Bird ventures to the Land of the Rising Sun and unknowingly meets Kaguya-hime, the mythological Japanese princess of the Moon. After seeing it at the age of five, I went out every clear night to stare at the Moon. Around this same time there were some pretty exciting things happening in space to get a kid excited. Voyager 2 flew past Neptune, the first spacecraft to ever visit the giant blue planet. The Hubble Space Telescope launched and sent back unprecedented awe-inspiring images of the cosmos. I distinctly remember seeing the Pillars of Creation make their debut on the cover of Sky and Telescope magazine and being unable to tear my attention away from every swirl and color contained in their majesty. 

But the entire course of my life changed on July 4, 1997, when NASA landed Pathfinder on Mars. Hitching a ride with this robotic lander was a tiny rover called Sojourner. When I saw the first pictures of that adorable rover driving around on the surface of Mars, I was hooked. Getting the chance to work on Mars missions for NASA became my new life goal.

Ten years and a couple of college degrees later, I was doing just that. My job was working in mission operations for a couple of cameras aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. As a geologist, my role was to pick what one of the cameras took photos of each week and then analyze those images to see what secrets of the martian past they might reveal. In particular, I tended to look for things changing on Mars today—new impact craters, fresh landslides, storms and more. Far from being a dead red rock floating in space, Mars is actually an active planet! There was something truly amazing about watching the surface of another world change from 200 million miles away.

Read more: Coming Back To Earth With Planetary Scientist Tanya Of Mars by Tanya Harrison

After Working on Mars, I’ll Never See Earth the Same Way (Medium)

For over a decade, I went to work on Mars.

There was a routine to each day: Come into the office. Make a cup of Earl Grey. Sit down at my computer and delve into the images sent to Earth from Mars overnight. In those moments, I was no longer on Earth. A watchful robotic eye orbiting 175 miles above the surface of the red planet acted as my proxy in the harshness of space.

Alas, I wasn’t wearing an awesome spacesuit to make the journey — although I would like to think that my collection of space-themed T-shirts was at least somewhat as cool…

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Monitoring Martian Weather, Part 1: On the Ground (Medium)

NASA’s InSight lander has been making a splash in the news thanks to its capable weather station—but it’s not the first robotic meteorologist we’ve had on Mars.

Last week, NASA unveiled the first weather data from its InSight lander, which arrived on Mars in late November of last year. With a primary goal of collecting seismic and heat flow data to help us learn about the interior structure of the Red Planet, InSight also requires extremely sensitive information about martian weather. This is because it needs to be able to distinguish possible “marsquakes” and underground temperature swings from other disturbances, such as gusts of wind. The Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS) measures…

Read more: Monitoring Martian Weather, Part 1: On the Ground (Medium)

After Oppy, an opportunity for NASA to work with SpaceX (The Houston Chronicle)

Last week, NASA officially said goodbye to the Opportunity rover after 15 years on Mars. Contact was lost last June after the strongest dust storm ever observed on the Red Planet engulfed the rover, blocking sunlight from reaching her solar panels. Even after the dust storm subsided, attempts to regain contact with “Oppy” (as she is often lovingly referred to) were unsuccessful. Her mission, however, was by far a success, and now…

Read more: After Oppy, an opportunity for NASA to work with SpaceX (The Houston Chronicle)