Overcoming Obstacles on Earth and in Space
Who are NASA's Earth and Space Science Explorers?
The middle school students who track weather to study its effect on bursting tree buds. And the scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. But also the teacher whose class shares Earth science data with students around the world. And the engineer who designs robotic instruments to probe hard-to-reach planets. All of these people are Earth Explorers, Space Science Explorers or both. The Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series features NASA explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.
Candice Hansen has always been fascinated by science. When she was young, she loved reading science fiction about space travel and other worlds.
However, getting from science fiction to science took time. After Hansen took a science class in college, she started to think about a career in science. She decided to study physics, the study of motion and forces, but did not know where that might take her.
"The person who set me on the path of a career in science was Dr. Dorothy Woolum," Hansen says. Woolum was the only female professor in the physics department at Cal State Fullerton when Hansen was a student there. Woolum had worked on NASA's Apollo mission, which sent men to the moon, and taught a class in planetary physics that Hansen took.
After she graduated, Hansen worked on NASA's Voyager mission, in which two spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore Jupiter and Saturn. She also completed graduate school to earn a master's degree at UCLA. Doing both at the same time was difficult, but being one of the few women in her field was harder. "At the time I started, there were not a lot of women planetary scientists," Hansen says.
Hansen currently works on the Juno mission. She is responsible for JunoCam, a camera that will take pictures of Jupiter's cloud tops. The camera should last for seven orbits of the planet, but the camera's electronics will eventually be destroyed by particles that surround Jupiter.
Designing JunoCam was not easy. Each new mission has unique problems to solve. For example, conditions in space are not fully known. "Every day brought a new challenge ... I loved being surprised," Hansen says. Scientists often have ideas about what a spacecraft will encounter, based on past data and observations. Sometimes, those notions about outer space are partially or even completely wrong. Scientists must be imaginative to solve the problems the universe poses.
Juno will not arrive at Jupiter until July 2016, but Hansen is looking forward to the images and data it will send back. Whether it was the first image of Jupiter's ring or the image of the avalanche on Mars’ polar cap, Hansen feels fortunate that she has had so many opportunities "to just stop and marvel." The images from JunoCam will be another opportunity to participate in nature's wonders.
Hansen tells students, "Do what you love. Study the things that fascinate you. Never lose that sense of wonder." And most importantly, enjoy that there are so many things in the universe you do not know. You will always have something to be curious about.
› What Is Juno?
› Voyager Mission
› Space Science Explorers Series
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› Careers @ NASA
Brandi Bernoskie/Institute for Global Environmental Strategies