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Scott Luthcke - Weighing in on Ice Sheet Weight
June 18, 2013

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Geophysicist Scott Luthcke finds weighing the ice sheets is sometimes easier than coaching his three daughters in field hockey.

Name: Scott Luthcke
Title: Geophysicist
Formal Job Classification: Same
Organization: Code 698, Planetary Geodynamics Laboratory, Solar System Exploration Division, Science Directorate
Years at Goddard: 23
Years in Current Position: 13

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard?

I am currently measuring the changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain glacier systems including the Gulf of Alaska glaciers. The changes in mass tell us if the glaciers are shrinking or growing and, if so, the overall rate of change. I process the observations from various satellites to tell us what is happening and also to determine the level of confidence in those observations so that others can then use these observations to model and forecast the future of the ice sheets.

Every day there is a new and very interesting problem to solve and I get to work with the best scientists and engineers to solve them. The problems can be anything involving technology, engineering or science.
  Scott Luthcke Photo of Scott Luthcke, a geophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Credit: NASA Goddard/Bill Hrybyk
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What makes a good leader? What makes a good team player?

As a team lead, I try to find smart, capable people and let them grow and innovate. I don't want to micromanage. I want to learn from my team. A good leader is more like a mentor. Each team player is also a mentor for the entire group as well.

What is unique about you?

I am a cross between a scientist and an engineer. Before the mission is launched, I work on the mission design and development. After the mission is launched, I analyze the data and perform scientific research.

Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored by NASA's space program and satellites in particular. At the age of 9, I told my mother that I wanted to grow up and work for NASA. One of my middle school teachers gave me a popular version of the space shuttle manual, which I studied in detail and read many times over. My teachers encouraged my love of tinkering, problem solving and physics. Because of these great teachers, and in particular my high school physics and humanities teachers, I was the first one in my family to go to college.

While I was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, I started working at Goddard as an entry-level data tech and programmer. I've been working with the same group for 22 years.

What is the one thing you would tell somebody just starting his or her career at Goddard?

Take on the hard problems and enjoy solving them. Make sure you connect with the great group of talent here when solving them. That's how you innovate!

Do you have a mentor or are you a mentor? If so, please tell us the most important advice you gave or learned?

When I started working here 22 years ago, my boss was Dave Rowlands and he became my mentor. I am working with him today and I still enjoy learning things from him. Most of all, he taught me how to attack big problems and persevere and, as a result, innovate.

If you weren't in your current profession, what would you be doing?

I would be an auto mechanic for high-end sports cars. I had several before my three daughters came along and hope to have one again when they leave home.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

I have coached women's field hockey for nine years. This year all three of my daughters will be on the club team that I coach. I love the sport.

What do you do to relax or have fun?

I like to spend time with my family, play guitar and surf, especially at Hatteras Island, N.C.

Of Note: Scott Luthcke has received the 2010 NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the 2010 Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award, the 2007 NASA Earth Science Exceptional Achievement Award and the 2006 Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Science Achievement Award.

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator