Observation Campaign Team Member—Luisa Lara
The following interview was conducted by the Stardust-NExT Education and Public Outreach team and Luisa Lara in May, 2012.What was your role in the Stardust-NExT mission?
My role in the Stardust-NExT mission was to give support to the science team by observing the target of the mission from ground-based telescopes: William Herschel Telescope at the Observatorio de El Roque de los Muchachos in La Palma and the 2.2 m telescope of the Calar Alto Observatory in Almería
Can you share one of the unique aspects of the Stardust-NExT mission that fascinates you most?
The clear detection of icy grains in the inner cometary coma.
Is this the first NASA mission you've worked with? If no, explain.
I gave similar support to the Deep Impact mission. Also, regarding planets, I have been working on developing photochemical models for Titan's atmosphere whose results have been valuable for the Cassini-Huygens mission.
What is your job outside of the Stardust-NExT mission?
I am a planetologist at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucía (CSIC) in Granada (Spain). My research is currently devoted to comets' data analysis and exoplanetary atmospheres by modelling the chemical composition. I am also involved in developing hardware for space missions, mainly imaging systems (i.e. cameras).
What is the most interesting aspect about your job that you'd like people to know about?
For me, the most important aspect about my job is the wide community I have to be in contact with. This community comprises from engineers to scientists, from kids to very senior professors. Also, my job has given me the opportunity to meet people from many different countries, cultures and disciplines. As a whole, it is a fascinating job.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who inspired you? Please talk about the path that led you to your area of interest.
Since I was a child I wanted to be a scientist and I loved to observe the sky in the night. Then, when I was 10 years old or so, I decided that I wanted to be an astronomer. Definitely my mother inspired me as she also loved to watch the night sky.
I studied Theoretical Physics at the University of Granada, and during my last year I visited the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia because there was the need to work on planetary atmospheres. Although I never thought before that an astromer (what I wanted to be since my childhood) could also work on exploring the Solar System, I ended doing my PhD on the atmospheric composition of Titan's atmosphere. During that time, I also became familiar with space missions.
If there was one thing you want the younger generation to understand about space exploration, what would it be?
That space exploration is not a matter of days or months, but a matter of years. Thus, if someone wants an immediate reward on this work, it is better that he/she does not even try to start. Space exploration is long path with a wonderful end.
Looking at the stars/sky means spending many hours observing the sky. How many hours do you typically spend and have you discovered anything?
I don't spend much time observing the sky both because I live in a big town and also because nowadays most observatories offer service or remote observations. I discovered the 1st of a series of 9P/Tempel 1 outbursts before the Deep Impact team also found it in the DI images.
From a theoretical viewpoint, in 1996 I predicted the amount of H2O in Titan's atmosphere needed to explain the CO2 observations. In 1998, the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) indeed found the molecule on Titan with an abundance very much like the one I had theoretically predicted.
Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?
For me the life goal is to live every day in full harmony with myself, and this comprises family, friends and work.