Meet: Jon Rask
Nasa Ames Research Center
Who I Am and What I Do
I am a Space Biologist. I am curious about what happens
to life many generations after it leaves planet Earth. My job requires
me to be involved in several different aspects of research. First, I
help complete ground studies here on Earth. In this role, I help to manage
the labs used to study specimens in both 1g (normal Earth gravity) and
in the Ames centrifuge facilities (to simulate hypergravity). These studies
help to generate a spectrum of knowledge that can be compared with the
results from past or future spaceflight experiments. Second, I helped
develop the actual spaceflight experiments themselves. In this example,
we send model organisms into space, allow them to grow and develop, and
then bring them back for study. We also repeat the same experiment here
on the Earth. Careful analysis of both the flight experiment and ground
controls are critical to understanding the biological changes that result
I have supported the development of biological research
hardware for the International Space Station, studied the growth of
model organisms including Drosophila (fruit flies), Arabidopsis (a
small plant), yeast, and C. elegans (a worm), and completed numerous
tissue culture studies using rodent muscle cells. In
addition, I attend team meetings, order supplies, maintain inventories,
and manage safety issues for the lab.
Another very important role I have
is educating the public. I have developed an educator guide that provides
teachers with information they can use to teach their students the
concepts of radiation biology, which is the interdisciplinary science
that examines the biological effects of radiation on living systems.
I also do extensive amounts of public outreach, covering topics of
space life sciences and astrobiology. I have helped train teachers
for the education office at Ames, and also volunteer for the Mars Society
Solar System Ambassador Program.
• Project management
• Biocompatibility testing of space mission hardware
• Space Biology experiment development
• Astrobiology education
• Ground studies and hypergravity research
• Radiation biology education
How I first became interested in this profession
I’ve wanted to work for NASA since my childhood.
What helped prepare me for this job
Persistence, consistency, patience, and enthusiasm! Lab skills
(molecular and non-molecular), communication and listening skills, knowledge
of biology, microscopy, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and most importantly,
a desire to learn about our place in the cosmos.
My mother and father, former students, astronauts, pictures from
Voyager 1 & 2, Mars scientists, special relativity, winters in North
Dakota, pioneers, and the haunting tranquility of prairie wilderness.
My education and training
• B.S., Education, North Dakota State University
• M.S., Space Studies, University of North Dakota
My career path
My love for space science started when I was farming and ranching
in North Dakota. It was a great experience because I was in a place where
evening light pollution did not exist, and this enabled some amazing star-gazing.
I was curious about the potential for life to exist elsewhere in the Universe,
and I loved to talk about it. So I became a science teacher in Bismarck,
ND, and incorporated the themes of space science my high school Biology,
Physics, Applied Biology Chemistry, Physical Science, and Geoscience classes.
Teaching these courses allowed me to see the interdisciplinary nature of
the study of life in the Universe. It inspired me to return to graduate
school at the University of North Dakota, where I earned an MS in Space
I then got a job at NASA Ames Research Center, where I
have worked on multiple projects including the Space Station Biological
Research Project, Space Shuttle life science payloads FIT, MICROBE, and
SPEGIS, and numerous hypergravity ground studies. I’ve also authored the NASA Ames radiation
biology educator guide.
What I like about my job
It is thrilling to know that I am participating in
the scientific exploration of the space frontier. It is a privilege to
make contributions toward improving our understanding of life in the
Universe. I also greatly appreciate being able to work with and learn
from world-class researchers, and I enjoy the flexibility of my schedule.
Sharing my experiences with friends, family, and the general public is
Another really fun aspect of my job is that I am also a
subject in human centrifugation studies. I actually ride in large centrifuges
here at Ames, and experience acceleration forces similar to what astronauts
feel during launch and re-entry. It really opens your eyes to human physiology!
Being a human subject motivates me to stay physically fit and lead a
What I don't like about my job
Writing many documents for several projects in parallel
on a short schedule is extremely challenging. The process requires me
to gather a lot of feedback, which can sometimes become quite complicated
and time consuming. Although juggling multiple tasks can be difficult,
it has helped me to develop efficient project management skills. Lab
work often requires very intensive, long days of repetitive work, even
on weekends. If we have organisms growing and experiments running, they
need to be tended to all the time. If I am
consistent and persistent with these parts of my job, the team I work
with is successful–which makes it all
Another thing that makes my job less enjoyable and quite
stressful is when priorities within the agency
change. If NASA policy changes, it may mean that ongoing programs are
no longer needed or desired–and
that program could be yours. It can mean that your experiment, project,
or flight gets canceled, and you or
your colleagues could end up losing their job, even after many years
of hard work.
My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Be proactive, learn as much as you can, and have fun! Be flexible
and make certain you follow through on everything you say you will do.
Last updated: September 2006