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Center Snapshot: David Kratz
David Kratz.

Image Above: Inspired by the 1965 Gemini 3 mission, David Kratz, a senior research scientist in the Science Directorate's Climate Science Branch, decided to pursue a career in science when he was just 10 years old. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

When he was still just a little boy, David Kratz would walk to a local railroad crossing with his grandfather and dream of driving one of the big, powerful locomotives.

By the time he was 10, though, Kratz's passion for trains had been derailed by a new obsession — the exploration of space.

His imagination fueled by the 1965 Gemini 3 mission, Kratz found himself looking to the stars for inspiration.

"I knew I wanted to do something in the field of science," he said.


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An amateur astronomer, David Kratz often travels so he can get a good look at the night sky away from the bright lights of Hampton Roads. He took this photo of his telescope on a recent trip to New Mexico. Photo courtesy of David Kratz.

David Kratz on a hike.

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David Kratz is an avid hiker. On a recent trip to Maine, he hiked to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin — the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. It was his sixth trip to the top. Photo Courtesy of David Kratz.

So he did.

Today, Kratz is a senior research scientist in the Science Directorate's Climate Science Branch. A co-investigator with the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) team, he leads the Surface Only Flux Algorithm working group (SOFA) and co-leads the Fast Longwave and Shortwave (FLASH) group.

For someone who once envisioned himself studying the atmospheres of other planets, that may sound a bit terrestrial. But Kratz doesn't really see it that way.

"Instead of focusing on other planets in the solar system, I focused on Earth's atmosphere," he said. "So it wasn't so much a drastic change as it was a refinement of what I was going to do."

And Kratz, who won a NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award in 2004 for his research in radiative transfer algorithm development for satellite retrievals and climate data analysis, truly loves what he does. Yes, the work is difficult, he says, but by interpreting the raw data that's telling us how and why the climate is changing, he's doing his part to make a complex issue easier for everyone to understand.

That's something Kratz feels passionate about.

"I want to understand," he said, "and then once I understand I'd like to pass that understanding on to other people."

Kratz has other passions as well. In his office at the Science Directorate — and at home — he nurtures a modest collection of Christmas cacti, which bloom in lovely shades of pink, purple and scarlet.

His interest in Christmas cacti may just be an extension of his love of the outdoors. Kratz is an avid hiker who often walks the Noland Trail in Newport News on weekend mornings. He's hiked in the Grand Canyon, too, and recently traveled to Maine, where he hiked to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin — the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail — for the sixth time.

"There's nothing like clearing your mind by just putting one foot in front of the other," he said. "You can center yourself and relax even though it's very strenuous."

In fact, Kratz says some of his biggest work-related breakthroughs have come to him on hikes, his mind free of day-to-day worries.

Not that he's the type to worry so much about his job that it keeps him up at night. No, what keeps him up at night, he says with a chuckle, is his favorite hobby: amateur astronomy.

Even as his professional career focused in on the Earth, Kratz always kept an eye on the stars. He loves to pack up his high-powered telescope and find a nice dark place where he can catch a good glimpse of the night sky.

Locally, Charles City County is one of his favorite spots. But in order to really see the stars in all their glory, Kratz heads west to New Mexico.

"You go out to New Mexico and you see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon in the summertime," he said. "You can see something called the zodiacal light, which is sunlight reflected off of dust particles in the solar system."

Kratz gets a big kick out of that, and in the same way that his grandpa would take him out to watch the trains as a kid, he loves being able to share his passion for astronomy with other people. On his most recent trip to New Mexico, he and a few companions spent a late night outdoors, taking turns gazing up at the heavens.

"I showed them all sorts of wonders out there that you can see so much better than here," he said.

Regardless of what Kratz is doing, it always always seem to circle back to science.

"It's just me, whether it's as a professional or an amateur, investigating the natural world," he said. "It's a grand adventure."

By: Joe Atkinson

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