Space Scientist Amy Simon-Miller Dedicated to the Mission
Supervisory Space Scientist Amy Simon-Miller takes dedication to the next level.
Associate Director For Strategic Science
Formal Job Classification:
Supervisory Space Scientist
Organization She Works For:
Code 690, Solar System Exploration Division
What is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?
Because I’m in the division office and I’m a supervisor, I spend half my time on management and administrative duties and the other half on science. I typically spend my day at a computer or running around to meetings. I am also involved in the Cassini Flagship mission at Saturn and a new mission called OSIRIS-REx which is an asteroid sample return mission. We’re building an instrument for that, so I’ve been more involved in hardware, which is new aspect for me. At the same time I’m also trying to continue doing scientific research. I frequently use the Hubble Space Telescope, primarily to observe Jupiter.
What discoveries with Hubble have knocked your socks off?
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Photo of Amy Simon-Miller. Credit: NASA/GSFC/W. Hrybyk
In early 2006, somebody reported that a 65-year-old storm on Jupiter had suddenly changed color and we got Hubble time to observe it. I spent that night in my office waiting for the data to come down because I was so excited about seeing it. When it came down, I was blown away by the image quality. Because it was so much different than I expected, at first I had no idea what I was seeing. It was amazing to realize that I was the first person on the planet looking at this image.
How did you get your start at Goddard?
When I was a Post Doctoral Research Associate at Cornell, my advisor, a member of Goddard’s Cassini CIRS team, asked me to become involved. I was one of the first users of the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory software that turns and runs the spacecraft, which we were testing during a maneuver near Jupiter. It was exciting and definitely different from the “pure” science I thought I’d be doing. I became more integrated into the CIRS team and eventually got a job at Goddard.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Certainly analyzing the science data. I particularly like the imaging data because you can instantly see results, but teasing information out of any data is exciting. The other thing I really like is outreach. When you talk to a group of kids, they get so excited. They think I have the coolest job ever. It reminds me of how lucky I am that I get to do this for a living.
What at Goddard inspires you?
I am constantly amazed at the work ethic of our people. If you come in any hour of the day, night, weekend or holiday, there is always somebody in an office or lab working. They are so dedicated to doing their science or getting their instrument built, they just can’t leave it and they are not getting paid overtime to do this. That has always impressed me.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Family is big part of my life and I also really like the outdoors. I think that’s true for a lot of scientists, and planetary scientists in particular, because we are studying processes on a planet. When I get the chance, I like to go hiking and exploring.
Another related hobby of mine is wildflower photography. When I was a kid, we’d visit my grandparents’ house in Vermont and my grandmother would point out different wildflowers. After we later moved to New Mexico, I started hiking. While it’s a desert, there are wildflowers throughout the year. When it rains, suddenly everything blooms and there were plants that I hadn’t seen before. I began taking pictures, cataloging, and learning more about the different plants. It became a challenge of sorts to find new plants every time we hiked.
What advice would you give to new Goddard scientist?
Get involved in training courses or clubs and get to know people across Center. You can meet folks from branches that have no bearing on what you do right now, but down the road you realize you know someone you can work with on a new project. The other piece of advice is to be open and flexible to new opportunities. A lot of people can get tied down to working on one specific thing. But by being open you may find a project that you find even more exciting. And once you close that door, it’s gone. So if you have the time and are willing to learn, you should branch out as much as you can.
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.