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The Path That Nearly Wasn't Followed

Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Carlos Del Castillo standing on a boat and holding a metal pole over the water
Carlos Del Castillo was ready to start his career as an ocean explorer. But shortly after setting sail on his first research cruise he became seasick.

Image to right: Carlos Del Castillo measures the reflection off the water. These data are used to make sure NASA satellite sensors that observe ocean color are working right. Credit: NASA

You can imagine how upsetting this must have been. He wondered what he would do if his body couldn't handle being on the water. After a few stressful days, however, he recovered and was able to work at sea.

Del Castillo is now an ocean scientist at NASA. He still gets a bit squeamish in rough weather. But he's managed to overcome his condition. Enough so that he recently received a presidential award for his research in ocean biology.

The award is called the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. It was given to Del Castillo during a ceremony last month at the White House. The award is for promising scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Del Castillo has spent most of his life on or near the ocean.

"My first vehicle, unlike most kids, was not only a bike, but a small sailboat," he said. "My love for the ocean has always played a great role in my life."

Del Castillo went to college and graduate school at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. He earned a B.S. in biology and M.S. in marine science from the school. Then he went to the University of South Florida, where he got a Ph.D. in oceanography.

The presidential award wasn't Del Castillo's first. In 1999 he received an award for his work at USF. It was called the Sackett Prize for Innovative Research.

His work at USF included research in oceans and rivers around the globe. One of the things Del Castillo liked about his education was the chance to see different parts of the world.

"I think I've been very lucky in the course my studies have taken me," he said. "One thing led to another, and eventually I completed my doctoral studies after working in the Eastern Caribbean, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Mexico."

Del Castillo started with NASA in 2000 at the Stennis Space Center. He did research on the use of remote sensing to study coastal areas. He's even co-edited a book on the topic. The book is scheduled to be published later this year.

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Adapted from NASA Press Release 04-308
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies