Dr. Joy Crisp has witnessed the evolution of the 2003 Mission to Mars, from its earliest incarnations. As the Mars Exploration Rover Project Scientist, Dr. Crisp tracks the project as it moves through each stage of the lifecycle, from the hardware and software design and construction to the testing phase, to the launch, and finally, to the actual operation on Mars.
Crisp reviews a wide range of information as it comes in from the engineering and science teams. Looking for new ways to maximize the science return of the mission within the Project constraints, she continuously evaluates scheduling, cost, technical feasibility, and risk.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Joy spent much of her childhood reading books. Her favorite subjects in school were english, literature, and math. It wasn't until college, when she took Physical Chemistry and Geology, that she began gravitating toward the field of science.
Joy pursued her Bachelors degree at Carleton College in Minnesota. What she mainly remembers about that time is studying hard, taking a slew of math and geology classes, and having lots of fun-especially on science-related field trips. After that, Joy attended Princeton University, and received her Master's degree and Ph.D. in Geology.
Joy's interest in volcanic rocks and the mineralogy of surface materials fuels her curiosity and passion for the Mission. "I find this work fascinating on Earth, so figuring out these puzzles on Mars is even more exciting," says Crisp. Drawing on physics and chemistry models, developed and tested here on Earth, Joy applies her knowledge of geology to future excavations on Mars.
While working on her doctorate dissertation, Joy made a scientific pilgrimage to the Canary Islands. "The scenery in the Canaries is spectacular, but the compositionally zoned ash flow eruption deposits and rock textures are equally stunning!" says Crisp. She studied the 14 million year-old outpourings of a magma chamber on Gran Canaria that erupted over and over, refilling and partially crystallizing each time. On a series of excursions to the islands, Joy collected rocks to bring back with her for more thorough examination. "The geological and mineralogical clues to the activity in the chamber were locked in the rocks, just waiting to be deciphered."
After graduating from Princeton in 1984, she began her career as a scientist. She held a postdoctoral research science position at the University of California Los Angeles, studying volcanic rocks and minerals. To learn about the pressure and temperature stability conditions for some of the minerals in the Canary Island magmas, she cooked rocks at high temperatures and pressures until they melted and recrystallized. Learning the tricks of this field called "experimental petrology" was rewarding, but it called for "great doses of patience and good plumbing skills." She was constantly fixing valves and leaks and soldering shut metal capsules filled with rock powder.
Ever since then, Joy has been working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She's worked on several projects at JPL. For the Mars Pathfinder Mission, she was the Assistant Rover Scientist and the Investigation Scientist for a chemical analysis instrument that was carried on the Sojourner rover on Mars. On another project, she studied volcanoes and volcanic eruption clouds, seen in the infrared through NASA's earth-viewing satellite instruments. Crisp has also done research on the physics of how lava flows cool, crystallize, and flow on the Earth and Mars.
In her current job at JPL, as Mars Exploration Rover Project Scientist, she's responsible for the science integrity of the Mission, representing the science investigators and acting as a science spokesperson for the Project. "I do my best to keep track of the design, development, and planning by the engineers, focusing on the aspects that have the biggest effect on the science return legacy for the science community. I'm looking for those things that can be improved upon with input from the science team," Crisp explains.
Her workdays vary, but much of her time is spent in meetings, preparing presentations, reading and generating documents, and responding to email. Some of the more interesting meetings focus on the details of specific measurements and experiments planned for the rovers. In other meetings, Dr. Crisp and science team members review the scientific data analysis of the landing sites to assess their safety and science quality. They also coordinate and develop strategies to prepare over a hundred scientists for mission operations. "The work will all be worth it in the end, when the science team is operating the rovers on Mars," says Crisp. After the landings in 2004, Dr. Joy Crisp and the entire team of Mars Exploration Rover scientists hope to discover one more piece of the puzzle, bringing us closer to understanding the larger mystery of the Red Planet.