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Meet: Deborah Bass

Mars Exploration Rover Science Operations System Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Image of Deborah Bass

Who I am
When I was in high school, I took a geology class. Geology is about studying the history of the Earth. You can classify rocks and mountains and other things in ways that show how they got there. When you start to learn geology, it is a lot of vocabulary. You learn lots of terms to get the basic language so that everyone can communicate in the same language. But I thought it was cool that the mountains and creek and stuff in my backyard actually had a place in history!

The neat thing about Geology is that you look at the "big picture". You combine a little physics, a little biology, a little chemistry and a little history. You look at how things interact with one another. In college, I kept taking geology classes, even though my family expected me to be a medical doctor. I'd always loved science fiction and fantasy books and thought space was really cool, but I didn't really like stars that much, so Astronomy wasn't the right thing. And I don't really love math that much either, so getting a degree in physics also seemed like a bad idea. But then I found out that there was this field called Planetary Geology-which combined geology, which I loved and was good at, with this planet stuff. Perfect!! It was like taking the big picture of geology and making it even bigger-look at a whole planet rather than one system! And I could look at a planet other than Earth!

In college, I worked as a summer intern for a NASA scientist who worked on the questions about life on Mars. I spent several years in San Antonio, TX at Southwest Research Institute, working on Cassini, the mission currently on its way to Saturn. For that project, I coordinated software design and development for science operations and also helped plan science activities. I also worked on designs for different instruments that could fly on future spacecraft. That was when I realized I wanted to work on designing spacecraft missions rather than only analyzing the data that comes down from the spacecraft.

What I do
Now, as a scientist with both a college degree and a PhD in Geology, I work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the Science Operations System Engineer for the Mars Exploration Rovers Project. I am trying to make sure that the way we are going to operate the rovers on Mars' surface will get us the most science possible. Once MER arrives at Mars I will act as a go-between for the science team, making sure that the measurements they want to make get properly implemented in the commands sent to the instruments

A lot of what I do every day is coordinate information between different people. I talk to the scientists to understand what they want. Then I talk to the software developers and the hardware engineers to make sure that things are going to be built so that the scientists get what they want. And I sit in a lot of meetings where decisions about how we are going to do things are made.

Free time!
Image of Deborah Bass with one of her dogsI am a major dog-lover! I have two German Shepherd Dogs, Halee and Yedi, and my favorite way to spend a weekend is to go hiking with my dogs and my husband. My husband and I also really enjoy scuba diving and all of our vacations involve getting to some exotic tropical paradise and getting under the water. I also love to cook and throw big parties where I can show off my cooking skills.

I was born in San Diego, California and grew up in Palo Alto, California. Right now, my husband and I live in Simi Valley, California, very close to his family. We live out in horse country, which is fun because there are always horses walking around the neighborhood.


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