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09.01.05
 
Who Are NASA's Space Science Explorers?

Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers? The scientist studying black holes in space. The teacher talking about the secrets of the cosmos. And the student asking if there is life away from Earth. All of these people are Space Science Explorers. They are all curious about our solar system and space. This is a story about a NASA Space Science Explorer.

Jaime Dyk wears a white lab coat and safety goggles as she sits in front of one of the shells that covers the Mars rovers to protect them
Image above: Jaime is happy to take a break from running tests. She helped test the parts that make up the Mars rovers. Behind her is one of those parts. It's a shell that keeps the rovers safe on their trip to Mars. The trip takes seven months. Credit: NASA
Two robots landed on Mars early last year. Their names are Spirit and Opportunity. Both have been hard at work. They have bounced across craters. They have driven around rocks. They have climbed Martian hills. And they have beamed thousands of pictures back to Earth.

Still, the people who made the rovers have worked just as hard. In fact, their work started long before the rovers ever got off the ground. One of those people is Jaime Dyk. She works at NASA. She came there in 2001. That was right when work on the Mars rovers began.

But science isn't the only thing Jaime likes to do. She also likes to cheer. So she tried out to be a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are a pro basketball team. When she made it to the final round she had to make a choice. She had to decide between cheerleading and science.

What made Jaime choose science? How did she feel when the rovers landed on Mars? And how is being a scientist different than she thought it would be? Space Science Explorers asked her these and other questions.

Space Science Explorers (SSE): How did you first get interested in space and Mars?

Jaime: I got interested in Mars at an early age. My seventh-grade science teacher taught us a lot about space, Mars and NASA. It was then that I knew I wanted to build "stuff" to go to Mars. Before that, I thought I wanted to work with dolphins at Sea World.

SSE: How did you choose between cheerleading and science?

Jaime: I thought cheerleading would be a neat thing to do. But tryouts made me see how much time it would take up. There wasn't enough time to cheerlead and do what I wanted to do at NASA. So, I gave up cheerleading. My focus has always been to be the best scientist I can be.

SSE: How did you help get the Mars rovers ready for their mission?

Jaime: Once the rovers were built, they had to be tested. I was on a team of people that ran these tests. The rovers are made up of many different parts. We had to make sure all the parts worked together as a system. And we had to make sure the rovers were ready for anything. Landing on Mars isn't easy. A lot of problems can arise.

SSE: How did you feel when the rovers landed and started to beam pictures back to Earth?

Jaime: It was great! It's amazing to see all of your hard work pay off. But it was sad, too. When you work on a project like this, the people you work with are like your family. You spend a lot of time with them. Now that it was over, we were all moving on to other projects. That was sad. It's also sad to know that you'll never see the rovers again.

SSE: What are you working on now?

Jaime: Now I'm working on another rover. This one is set to go to Mars in 2009. It's called the Mars Science Laboratory. I'm part of a team of people. We're working on all the parts that make the rover move. These include the wheels and a part called the rocker. The rocker keeps the rover balanced. It's a dream job for me. I'm very excited about it.
An artist's drawing of the Mars Science Laboratory
Image above: The Mars Science Laboratory has more tools than the rovers. It will study Mars in greater detail, too. Credit: NASA


SSE: Is being a scientist what you thought it would be?

Jaime: I had no idea how cool it would be. It's exciting to see pictures from Mars. And it's cool to see machines you worked on sitting in the Martian dirt. Movies gave me the wrong idea about scientists. I thought they were all men wearing shirts and ties. Turns out it's not like that at all.

SSE: What subjects in school have helped you most in the work you do today?

Jaime: The classes I use most are my math and science classes. Being able to explain things clearly is also important. We spend a lot of time coming up with ideas. But presenting those ideas to other people is what makes them fly.

SSE: Some kids are really interested in science. But they might think it's too hard. What would you say to them?

Jaime: The work I do is hard. But I am only one person on a team of people. No one person could ever do what we do. We all work together. That's how we're able to do everything we do.

See previous Space Science Explorers articles:
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Related Resources:
Mars for Kids
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The Space Place: Let's Go to Mars!
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies