United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Interviewed by
Jim Lattis
Interview date
Location
Kissimmee, Florida
Abstract

Interview with Mehmet Alpaslan, NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow. The interview begins with Alpaslan recounting his childhood in Turkey and several other countries, as his parents worked for the Turkish Foreign Ministry. He recalls reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as a teen, which sparked his intereste in astronomy. Alpaslan discusses his decision to attend the University of St. Andrews where he studied physics and astronomy. He describes his undergraduate research in modified Newtonian dynamics, as well as his introduction to extragalactic astronomy by Simon Driver, who eventually became his PhD advisor. Alpaslan discusses his PhD work with the Galaxy and Mass Assembly Survey (GAMA), including his time at the Anglo-Australian Telescope and his work writing code for data analysis. He then explains the connections which led him to the NASA Postdoctoral Program where he is a fellow at NASA Ames Research Center. Alpaslan describes the joys of observation and working with telescopes, as well as the benefits and challenges of writing your own code from scratch. At the end of the interview, he shares that although careers in academia can be difficult, the ability to work on exciting science makes it worthwhile. 

Interviewed by
Henrik Hargitai
Interview date
Location
U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona
Abstract

In this interview, Chris Isbell discusses cartographic production techniques applied during analog and early digital eras, and the evolution and application of these and other related techniques as applied to numerous scientific and cartographic projects from early years (1970’s) through more recent times (late 2010’s). Isbell discusses his work at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from his initial student appointment to the present, including planetary mapping, technical and computer programming work, working with NASA's Planetary Data System, and creating maps manually back in the hard copy era. He also discusses colleagues in related USGS departments, including: Ramona Bourdeau and the photo lab; Roger Carroll and Jim Vandivier in the drafting shop; the airbrush process used by Jay Inge and Pat Bridges at Lowell. He describes early digital processes, including Planetary Image Cartography System (PICS) and Integrated Software for Images and Spectrometers (ISIS). He discusses how NASA's Planetary Data System established cartographic standards, with the input of key people including Larry Soderblom and Hugh Kieffer. He discusses working on Voyager 1 at JPL, in a team including Soderblom, Kieffer, Ray Batson, Sherman Wu, Hal Masursky, Mike Carr, Gene Schaber, Randy Kirk, Annie Howington, Ray Jordon, and drafters Caroll and Vandivier. He also discusses Viking and the color mosaic of the equatorial belt of Mars, and the work of digital mapper Pat Chavez. He briefly discusses the planetary nomenclature program, run by Mimi Strobel, USGS representative to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), who was succeeded by Joe Russel, Jenny Blue, and Tenielle Gaither. The interview then moves to more personal questions; what brought Isbell to planetary mapping, where he would like to land on Mars, and what he would tell children about scientific research and creative work.

Interviewed by
Henrik Hargitai
Interview date
Abstract

Interview with Mark Rosiek, a planetary photogrammetrist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center. Rosiek discusses his work for the Air Force, prior to joining USGS, where he worked in image processing and satellite imagery. He then describes his work on mapping the landing site for the Huygens satellite on Titan, as well as his work on Martian contour maps using Viking images. Rosiek recalls his lunar mapping projects, specifically mapping the polar regions of the Moon. He describes differences between working with data from the Clementine mission versus the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Rosiek reflects on the technological advances that have changed planetary mapping work over the years. He discusses his education at SUNY College of Forestry where he was introduced to photogrammetry and remote sensing. Rosiek also talks about collaborating with geologists in his work, and he explains the changing role of USGS in the field of planetary mapping. The interview concludes with Rosiek sharing the importance of planetary mapping work and the need to continue updating maps as new technology emerges. 

Interviewed by
Henrik Hargitai
Interview date
Abstract

In this interview, Jim Skinner discusses his life and career, with a focus on the uniform global geographic map of Mars. Topics discussed include: United States Geological Survey - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (USGS-NASA) Planetary Geologic Mapping Program; Ken Tanaka; Corey Fortezzo; Geographic Information System (GIS); previous maps of Mars; Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS); Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA); the advantage of terrestrial mappers in planetary mapping; Mars Global Surveyor (MGS); Trent Hare; mapping Venus; James Dohm; the USGS's 2022 planetary geologic mapping protocol; Artemis 3; Chris Okubo.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson
Interview date
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It also covers a range of other topics concerning George (Jay) Keyworth’s service between 1981 and 1985 as science advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Keyworth recounts his previous career at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, his selection as science advisor, his access to White House policymaking via counselor to the president Ed Meese, and his own interactions with Reagan. He notes that Reagan had a faith in technological ingenuity as part of a broadly optimistic outlook on humanity. Keyworth also discusses his strong relationship with engineer and executive David Packard as well as deliberations concerning stealth technology, missile basing, the AIDS crisis, and space policy. He expresses disdain for the space station and space shuttle programs and his regret that the Reagan administration did not do more to reform NASA. He recalls spending political capital securing White House support for basic research, including the SSC and funding increases for the National Science Foundation. He argues that Brookhaven National Lab’s Isabelle collider was poorly justified whereas the SSC was an ambitious and inspiring project. Keyworth asserts that he was able to commit the White House Office of Management and Budget to pursuing the SSC before he was assigned full-time to working on the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile defense program in 1983.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the background research for David DeVorkin's biography of George Carruthers. Gerald Carruthers is the younger brother of George. The interview begins with Carruthers describing his early childhood years and family life, particularly the period when the family lived on a farm in Milford, Ohio. He recalls the many farm chores done by him and his siblings, especially George who was the eldest. Carruthers remembers George building his first telescope on the farm, which accidentally started a small fire. He describes his father’s work as a civil engineer and his grandmother’s work as a teacher, a legacy which he suspects influenced George’s later interest in science education. Carruthers recalls George being extremely focused and dedicated from a young age, and he describes George’s knack for art and drawing. He discusses the family’s move to Chicago after their father died and recalls the racial discrimination they faced in the neighborhood and at school. Carruthers shares memories of George spending time at Adler Planetarium, participating in science fairs, and building rockets in the yard. He recalls his mother’s job at the post office, where George also worked during summers home from college. Carruthers describes his own military service working on missile systems, work which took him to many places including Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Germany. He shares memories of George’s wife, Sandra, as well as George’s humility when it came to his many achievements.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the background research for David DeVorkin's biography of George Carruthers. This is a focused interview with George “Pinky” Nelson, an astronaut trained in physics and astronomy who flew three times on the space shuttle between 1978 and 1989. The interview covers his selection as a mission specialist astronaut and his experiences going through the selection process. It also covers his specific astronomical interests in solar physics and how his general interests in the space sciences, as well as a personal interest in flying, led him to apply to be an astronaut. The main body of the interview relates to Nelson’s description of the selection process, and his contacts with Naval Research Laboratory astronomer George Carruthers, who applied to be an astronaut in the same group as Nelson but was not chosen.

Interviewed by
Jon Phillips
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, AIP Oral Historian Jon Phillips interviews Dr. Sean Brennan, emeritus physicist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. Brennan describes his early life in an academic family, undergraduate education at Catholic University, and graduate education under Arthur Bienenstock at Stanford University, where he began work with synchrotron radiation. He discusses his early work at SLAC with Jo Stohr on X-Ray absorption experiments, and his post-doc at Exxon. Brennan goes on to discuss the development of the facilities and research at SLAC over the course of his tenure there, as well as his work on the NASA Stardust project analyzing asteroid and comet samples. The interview concludes with a discussion of Brennan’s activities after retirement, including programming apps and serving as a ski patrol rescue worker.

Interviewed by
Joanna Behrman
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Joanna Behrman, Assistant Public Historian for AIP, interviews Christopher Russell, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. Russell describes his childhood in Britain and Canada before attending the University of Toronto as an undergraduate. He describes his initial move to the University of California, Los Angeles, for his Ph.D. with Robert Holzer and then transitioning into more permanent positions there. Russell recounts his work studying geomagnetism and the solar wind on the OGO series, Apollo program, International Sun-Earth Explorer, and Pioneer Venus Spacecraft. Russell describes the changing scientific paradigm from an Earth-centric idea of geomagnetic activity to a solar wind centric theory. He recounts his work in the collaborations for the Galileo and Cassini missions with Margaret Kivelson and David Southwood. Russell then explains the motivation behind the NASA Discovery program and how he developed the Dawn mission. He reflects on the growth of UCLA as a locus for research in planetary and space sciences. At the end of the interview, he describes the wide range and impact of the collaborations he has been a part of. 

Interviewed by
Jon Phillips
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

Interview with Abel Méndez, professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. In this interview, Professor Méndez discusses his upbringing in Puerto Rico and early interest in astronomy, his education at the University of Puerto Rico and work at Fermilab, and the early stages of his work on astrobiology with NASA. He describes the origins of the Planetary Habitability Lab at Arecibo and his work studying exoplanets for potential suitability for life. Finally, he discusses the work environment at Arecibo, the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, the collapse of the telescope’s dish, and the potential future of the Observatory.