Amanda Hendrix, Cassini/Huygens DPS
Dr. Amanda R. Hendrix is a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is the deputy project scientist for the Cassini/Huygens mission at Saturn. Her research focuses on ultraviolet spectroscopy of solar system surfaces; she is most interested in weathering processes and effects on both icy and non-icy surfaces. She has been a participating scientist on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a Co-Investigator on Cassini/UVIS, worked on the Galileo mission at Jupiter, and has worked on data from the Mariner 9 Mars mission, Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer. Vesta is her favorite asteroid. Dr. Hendrix tells us:
I was lucky enough to become involved with the Galileo Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS) team while I was in grad school at the University of Colorado. I was studying aerospace engineering – and the CU program is very good – but it wasn’t until I started studying planetary science and working with the UVS data that I felt I’d really found what I’d been looking for. I was very lucky, because ultraviolet spectroscopy is traditionally used for studying atmospheres and aurorae, and not so much for surfaces, so no one on the team was particularly interested in analyzing the Moon data (from the Galileo flybys of the Earth and Moon). I jumped on it! Ultraviolet spectroscopy of surface has been my “thing” ever since.
Her latest paper is Hendrix, A. R., T. A. Cassidy, R. E. Johnson, C. Paranicas, “Europa’s Disk-Resolved Ultraviolet Spectra: Relationships with Plasma Flux and Surface Terrains,” Icarus, pp. 736-743, 2011.
The following interview was conducted by Dr. Julie Castillo of JPL over email:
Q: What first inspired you to study space science?
A: I was fascinated by the solar system beginning in 3rd grade when we first learned about the planets in school. We made dioramas of the solar system – I still have mine – it’s a shoe box (classic 70s StrideRite) with little clay painted planets hanging on yarn strings. I loved that thing! That was back when Pluto was a planet. Also, I’ll never forget a roadtrip that the family took to Colorado when I as about 7, in my dad’s VW bus. Driving through the desert at night — the sky was so incredibly fabulous!! I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky and remember getting my first star chart on that trip. Also, I grew up in Pasadena, so JPL was always nearby and in the news. My family wasn’t really involved with JPL (although some of my school friends’ parents worked there) so it was always a little mysterious-seeming and fascinating. And then, I think I was a senior in high-school when Voyager was doing the Uranus flyby and there was a public event at Beckman auditorium that I went to, and watched the images coming in … so great!
Q: Where did you postdoc, and for how long?
A: I did a post-doc at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. It was about 3.5 years. That is also where I got my Ph.D. I know that many people will advise others to not do a post-doc at their doctoral institution, but in my situation, it worked out great. My advisor, Charles Barth, actually sort of encouraged me to finish up my Ph.D work by the time Galileo got into orbit around Jupiter, so that I could be the prime person on the team doing the icy satellite analysis. What an opportunity!!
Q: How did you choose your current institution?
A: I took at job at JPL after my post-doc, to work on the Cassini mission. The job was to do science planning for Cassini and it sounded like a neat opportunity. Basically, I was ready to move on from my post-doc and asked a JPL friend if she knew of opportunities. I got lucky, because of the timing and who I knew. I could have taken the Cassini science planning job as a full-time gig but I made a concerted effort to not do that. I had research grants already and really wanted to keep up on my own research projects. I’m glad that I did it that way.
Q: Do you have any advice for students and postdocs just starting their career in space science?
A: Do what feels right for you! And take the time to explore and do different things. There are a lot of cool topics and opportunities out there.
Q: Have you been involved in missions?
A: I was involved in the Galileo mission as a grad student and post-doc; I worked on the UVS data of the moon and asteroids for my thesis work. As a post-doc, I worked on the icy satellites and was named a co-investigator on the team. I am currently a co-investigator on the Cassini UVIS team as well as the deputy project scientist. I have also worked on a couple of mission concepts and proposals.
Q: What are some of the challenges and rewards of being involved in missions?
A: I think it is really great to be involved in missions. I sort of can’t imagine doing planetary science and not being involved in a mission (though of course that’s just me being close-minded!). It’s so valuable to understand the ins-and-outs of the spacecraft and what the observational geometry was like, etc, when analyzing the data itself. It’s also challenging to be involved in missions because a significant portion of my time is taken up doing planning and sort of bureaucratic stuff – so I really don’t have as much time as I’d like to do the actual reduction and analysis of data. (But I’ll get there!) It’s very rewarding to be involved in an icy satellite flyby and then see the data come down, and see the mission be a success. It’s really wonderful.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I really enjoying traveling, spending time goofing around with my family and dog, hiking, rollerblading, going to the beach.
Thank you, Amanda and Julie!
Dr. Hendrix 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 planetary science women can join!