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Mark Kochte

Science Operations Specialist

picture of Mark Kochte

My Field Journals

My job title is Science Operations Specialist. Primarily my responsibilities here are to ensure that the data from the spacecraft (the Hubble) arrives into our processing pipeline (it comes to us in raw, machine language), then make sure it runs through our processing pipeline, where it is converted from the raw, machine language format to something that you can type out and read or display as an image. After this I send the data off to the Archives Branch where it is stored on giant optical disks (really huge CDs), and a copy is forwarded on to the original researcher who requested this data.

I was always interested in the sciences, primarily the earth sciences, all through elementary and junior high school. Wasn't a big fan of the biological sciences; they didn't "grab me". When I hit 8th grade, the first thing we studied was astronomy. After the first week I knew, then and there, I was going to pursue a career in astronomy - in some way, shape, or form!

From there on out I began to find every book and magazine I could on the subject of astronomy. I was working a paper route at the time, and saved every penny I could to purchase a serious telescope (not one of those little K-Mart-type ones). I still have it to this day. I would go out at night and just sit and study the sky. I would get up at 4am on my own volition, drag my telescope up the street to a clearing, and study the stars and planets. I studied and plotted how the planets moved for fun. I got very interested in black holes and studied everything I could find on them, and on my own, wrote a mini-research paper about Black Holes. Proudly I showed it to my 8th grade science teacher, who took it, looked it over, and gave me an 'A' for the semester.

He kept the paper. I never saw it again (and was a little upset 'cause I wanted to keep it for my *own* records). I hadn't written it for him to keep; I wrote it for me. Grrrr.

After junior high I continued reading everything I could find. I read *every* astronomy book our library had, and signed on for subscriptions to the astronomy magazines of 'Sky &Telescope' and 'Astronomy'.I joined the local astronomy club, went out and did various observations, and even did a science fair project on photographing the sun (I also discovered photography at this time, and was fascinated in seeing what I could and could not do with photography and astronomy).

After high school I went off to college to pursue my dreams in astronomy. Took a couple years longer than normal, but I eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in astronomy. A year later I stumbled upon some job openings here at the Space Telescope Science Institute and applied. A few months later I hobbled through the doors (I had in between times managed to shatter my leg in a rock climbing accident) as a new employee to the Space Telescope Science Insitute. And here I am (my leg is better now, thanks).

The best thing about my job is getting the opportunity to see things no human before us has ever seen until now. The worst thing[about my job is when the software breaks after the software people gave us some upgrades to fix something. But like it is popularly said in the computer community: 'software upgrades are where you take out old bugs and replace them with new ones.' Very frustrating.

As far as a student today getting involved or preparing for an astronomy- related career, go read everything you can find. Join a local astronomy club (too many professional astronomers surprisingly couldn't point out a constellation if it came up and bipped them in the nose). Make it fun - astronomy is *supposed* to be fun, as well as being cutting edge science. Amateur astronomers are some of the most 'cutting edge' people around; find them. They do independent studies of variable stars, meteors, and comet hunting. The Internet offers you today something I didn't have: an electronic access to thousands of astronomical resources - including HST data. For example, if you came up with a research project you wished to do using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the archive branch has online every observation we have ever made in the 5+ years since launch. You can poke around in the archives to find what you need, and when you find it, pull it out for your own studying.

My 8th grade science teacher, Jerry Jividen, was probably the most influential person in my choice/decision of what career I followed. Yeah, definitely. He once threatened to break both my arms and legs if I did not go on a 9-day geology field trip around Ohio with the rest of the hand-picked kids (I didn't think that I was good enough, and I wasn't *that* interested in geology - big mistake on my part; geology's cool). I went along and ended up holding my own star nights during the trip (brought along a small telescope for the venture, too). He just sat off in the shadows and smiled.

He also told me once he didn't believe I was going to become an astronomer, that I would become a park ranger instead. When he told me this I was so absorbed in astronomy that I wasn't letting anything get in my way. I thought I would show him that I was true to my dreams and prove him wrong, but he already knew that I would go the distance. He was just giving me a hard time.

On the side I've gotten involved with a research project using the Hubble Telescope itself, in seeking out low-mass companions around nearby stars. Haven't found anything yet, but we're not done searching, either!

When I'm not otherwise involved at work, you can probably find me out somewhere climbing (my favorite thing in the universe), caving, mountaineering, or hiking/camping in the backcountry. At home I spend my time doing lot of reading, listening to a variety of music, participating in mentally stimulating tactical board games, surfing the Internet, growing a *ton* of plants, or watching Babylon 5 (my second favorite thing in the universe). Or sleeping. *grin*

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