Carol Raymond, Dawn Deputy PI
Carol Raymond is the Deputy Principal Investigator on the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres. I’ve known Carol since 2003, when I became the Program Scientist for Dawn at NASA Headquarters, so it was good to catch up with her on a trip to JPL last summer and talk about her work on Dawn. Excerpts from our interview on 11 August 2009 follow:
Niebur: So, Carol, as we start, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background, where you come from, what kind of projects you’ve been on before Dawn.
Raymond: I came to JPL in 1990 shortly after my Ph.D., and I came from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University where I had been studying marine geophysics, looking at plate motions on the earth, early breakup history and formation of the ocean basin between Antarctica and the surrounding continents. As an outgrowth of that kind of work, I incorporated space data which were coming into the mix at that time as kind of a new data type. I worked with Seasat data and Magsat data, which gave gravity and magnetics, which helped us to see new things–well, the gravity helped us to see the ocean floor in much more detail in terms of its topography and its fabric than we could from just the ship tracks that had been measuring things in one dimension. Then Magsat, the magnetic field satellite, gave us the synoptic view of the whole earth’s crustal magnetization, which was quite different than the perspective we had from looking at the fields that were patched together from all the observations near the surface. I tried to integrate the satellite data with the sea surface data to try to understand a little bit more about how the magnetism or the earth’s history of its magnetic field was recorded in the tape recorder of the oceanic crust.
That work led me — through some common colleagues — to the attention of Tim Dixon, who was running a group at JPL working in geophysics, and looking at what kinds of earth missions might be done within the group or supported with the group. … Then the data came back from Mars Global Surveyor showing the crustal magnetism on Mars and that was the game changer for me…. Here’s a chance to get in on something where right from the beginning, you’re learning things new, you’re trying to figure out puzzles that have very few pieces. That changed a lot for me. So then, I decided to focus on Mars, bringing along the earth lessons, and I got a proposal funded to start working on that. And I also started looking at follow on missions.
And so, it was at that point that I contacted Chris [Russell] and asked him if he wanted to go in on some input to the Science Definition Team, which was looking at the next Mars missions. And so, we started to collaborate on that and we got our input in, and eventually down the road led to a Discovery proposal, which was in the same round as Dawn. So, Chris and I were actually competing against each other. Of course, Chris was a Co-I on my proposal and he has asked me to be the Deputy PI on his proposal. My proposal was not selected. Dawn was. And so, there’s another twist and turn in the road. And I said, well, this is a really interesting mission. It’s a stretch for me, but I was also very gratified that Chris had confidence in me that even though I didn’t have a decade of experience in planetary science or even a decade of experience in missions, he thought that I would be able to do the job.
Niebur: What was the role of the Deputy PI when you started? What did you expect it to be?
Raymond: Well, Chris and I, as I said, we had some history ahead of starting the Dawn project. And we had an understanding, which still holds to this day that this wasn’t going to be a project scientist role. This wasn’t going to be, I’m the PI, you’re the project scientist, you do that work of coordinating what’s going on at JPL with science team and work kind of at a more, I want to say, planning level or implementing level than sort of the strategic level. And Chris said, that’s not what I want you to do. I want you to be the equivalent of the PI. So, whatever position the PI would take is shared between both of us. He emphasized to the project managers that I could stand in for him. And so, he basically gave me authority of the PI’s voice in my interactions. And that to him was the difference between whether I got called a Deputy PI or a project scientist…. I’m one person, I do the day-to-day interactions, I do the PI interface, I do the management interface, I do the science contracts, I’m trying to do the research.
Dawn had a difficult development due to a number of constraints, delays, and hardware failures. The team worked very hard to recover and get the spacecraft to launch. At one point in 2006, the mission went into a stand down.
Raymond: Now, getting back up from the stand down, now that was just plain weird. We were being reviewed by a diverse group of people with limited experience with missions like ours, and the charter of the review board was also somewhat subjective. It was the only time in my life that I think I ever had an anxiety attack, because I felt that the project had so little control over the outcome of the situation. Once things really got back on track, stand down’s over, we’re back in business, the team’s reconstituted, we’ve gotten over the emotional damage and we’re starting to work as a team again, and now it’s like, gosh, launch is moved out a year, but we’re still in the same situation, we’re still sprinting. We still have a ton of work to do, still have issues to solve every day. And so, we’re back in high gear again. And on and on it went until we launched. And when we launched, I felt such relief, it’s finally gone. It’s safe. And I literally spent the next year de-stressing myself, trying not to work such crazy extra hours and focusing on my family, taking care of the other important things in my life. And it literally took me a year to re-equilibrate. And in the middle of all this, I wrote another [Mars] Scout proposal. Actually, I wrote two Scout proposals.
Niebur: When did you have the time?
Raymond: I didn’t. I didn’t. And that was the other thing. I kept wanting to keep my oar in the water and this is what I had to do, and I made it work, but it just contributed to the overall stress. And so, as time went by and things got a little more normalized, I thought, this is really more like I think life should be. I don’t think it’s supposed to be that dramatic and stressful.
Niebur: Being a PI or Deputy PI is a lot of work. Do you think there were–were there things that you wish you’d known before you started this?
Raymond: Yes. I wish I had been more cognizant of the importance of some of the work that was done first like the requirements definition.
Niebur: That was huge on this project, yes.
Raymond: Yes, and we’re still fighting with some of the requirements because they can be–they’re somewhat of a double edged sword. You don’t want to make them too stringent, so you have trouble–or you spend a lot of resources to meet them, because you have to, so you back off a little. But then, the project on the other side can say, no, this is the contract, this is what we’re doing. So, don’t be telling me you need to do all that extra stuff. And you say, ooh, that’s not how we wrote them. We wrote those requirements with the understanding that this was what we have to do to call it success. But, actually the science investigations that we want to do are more than that, because this is a Discovery mission and we want to make discoveries!
There’s a lot of nuance. And, well, when you change a project manager in every phase of your mission, a lot of that continuity gets lost. And then, you’re up against somebody saying, this budget’s tiny, my staff is tiny and you want to do what? So, then you’ve got to educate the team about what’s important and about what we were we thinking when we decided we could do all this, what were the assumptions we made, – things like we’re a mapping mission, we’re not a point and shoot, we don’t react to things as we go along. These are the assumptions we make to believe that we could do this within this budget. And so, there’s a lot of education involved. And we’re just now starting to converge and sync up to become the team that’s going to fly Vesta.
Niebur: And you’ve got a different project manager now.
Raymond: Yes, a different project manager, and somebody new doing the Vesta development plan. So, Marc Rayman and myself and Chris from the original [JPL] team…. That’s what happens to most people. They perform a development job, and then at launch, they go away to the next mission. So, that’s where we are. But for me, I’m really, really happy to be here talking to you about the Dawn mission in 2009, and looking forward to fantastic discoveries at Vesta and Ceres. I’m confident that our team will be successful.
Dr. Raymond is being featured here as one of 51 Women in Planetary Science, a series of interviews with successful women scientists on career choices, sequencing, publishing, review panels, and other tips for success. Questions or suggestions for future interviews can be sent to us directly or to our email list, which all women in planetary science can join.