We're doing something a little different with this segment of the Way
Cool Scientist. Not everyone who works on a planetary mission is a
scientist or an engineer. There are many people who are part of the
Mars mission who come from different backgrounds and have various
talents that they put to use to support the Mars Exploration Rover team.
Three of these people are Mary Mulvanerton, Diane Bollen, and Pamela
Smith. They are part of the Athena team that helps principal
investigator Steve Squyres get his work done. They may not be career
scientists, but they all agree that their jobs are "Way Cool."
(From left to right) Diane Bollen, Mary Mulvanerton and Pam
Smith in front of the Mars Rover exhibit at the Ithaca Sciencenter.
If you love space exploration but are not very good in math and science,
all is not lost. There may be a place for you in the space industry.
My name is Mary Mulvanerton and I am both an accountant and an attorney.
I have the unbelievable honor of working on the Mars Exploration Rover
Mary Mulvanerton and principal investigator Steve Squyres standing in front
of the MER spacecraft at the Jet Propulsion Lab.
I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and grew up in Old Bridge, New
Jersey. As a child I loved looking at the night sky and wondering “who
or what else is out there?” I watched every TV show and movie I could
find about space exploration. I remember my excitement as I watched
Neil Armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon. I dreamed of
someday working on a project that would go to another planet.
As a high school student, although I loved math and science, it quickly
became obvious, my talents lie elsewhere. If you put a dollar sign next
to a number I can work miracles with it. If you put a letter next to a
number, my brain just shuts down. Higher math was not my thing.
Because I thought only scientists and engineers work on space missions,
I gave up my dream of someday working on a team that would explore
another world. I pursued my Bachelors of Accounting degree at Kean
University in New Jersey and worked for many years as the Controller of
a Wall Street advertising agency. In the evenings I went to law school
and earned my J.D. in Law at New York Law School. I then worked for five
years at a Manhattan Law firm, Calcagno and Garruto, doing commercial
litigation and personal injury law.
Then, it happened. Along came the most exciting and important
opportunity of my life. The Athena Science team at Cornell University
had a position available for someone with my accounting background.
When I was offered the job I dropped everything, gave up my job at the
law firm, moved up to “the wilds” of upstate New York, and joined the
Athena team. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
My job on the project is diverse, challenging, exciting and way cool.
Every day is a new adventure. I create and monitor the budget for
Cornell’s participation in the project as well as for several other
universities and private companies subcontracted by Cornell to work on
the MER project. I scheduled a museum tour for our student-built rover
model which included the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum. I
assist NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the facility that manages the
MER project, with setting up flight operations computer accounts for our
science team, badging issues and scheduling issues associated with
training of the Athena Science Team. And, I even got to go to the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, don a lab coat, hairnet, and facemask and help
calibrate the actual cameras that will be going to Mars. And lots,
Mary Mulvanerton buttons up her lab coat as she prepares to
enter a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Lab during Pancam camera
The most exciting part of my job is knowing that I am contributing to
history. The accomplishments of the MER mission and what will be
learned as these rovers travel to, and traverse the surface of Mars will
be used to help future space missions. However, what I will remember
most about working on this project are the people I work with. I have
the honor of working daily with some of the most brilliant scientists in
the space industry. They are from all over the country and around the
world. Their brilliance, kindness, excitement, and unending love of,
and dedication to, this project are inspiring. In addition, there are
hundreds of support people, like myself, from many different backgrounds
who possess the same love and enthusiasm for this project as do the
scientists and engineers who designed and built the rovers and their
instruments. It is the people who will bring space exploration to ever
If there is one piece of advice I can give to kids it is to follow your
dreams. Figure out what you are good at and apply it to what you love.
Whether you are an accountant, an attorney, a writer, an educator or
almost any other profession I can think of, use your talents to advance
something you love. If you love baseball and you are a writer, try to
get a job writing about sports. If you are an educator and love the
arts, try to get a job that promotes the arts. And, if you are an
accountant or an attorney that dreams about exploring other planets, get
a job on a space mission. Never give up your dreams.
I have been involved with the Athena project from the very beginning. I
worked with Prof. Squyres and his colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Lab
in Pasadena, California writing the original proposal. That was in
1997. Since that time, I have taken on many roles, everything from
creating blind calibration samples for the
APXS to classroom visits
where I teach kids about Mars and the mission.
Diane Bollen poses with the Mars Rover model while at the
Smithsonian Institution's 2002 Mars Day festivities.
I have always been intrigued by what is in the sky and the realization
that it is one of our "final frontiers." It helps to have grown up in
an area where a view of the night sky is not hampered by the glare of
city lights. I was born in a small town in Upstate New York called Penn
Yan. After high school, I attended a local community college while
working full time, then transferred to Cornell University where I earned
my Bachelor of Science degree. I was always interested in, well,
everything. But I was very curious about science -- of any kind. I
changed my major in college four times in two years and then completed
graduate work in three different areas.
Before delving into a career in space science, I focused on matters of
this planet. I worked on watershed geochemistry in the Department of
Ecology. I have also been an associate editor of a science journal, and
an assistant museum curator. Then came Mars. There are many cool
things about being involved with the Mars Exploration Rover mission. It
is on the "cutting edge" of science -- we are trying to do things that
have NEVER been done before. Since I have a strong biology and
geochemistry background, I am intrigued by the idea that Mars once may
have had conditions very similar to early Earth - when life first came
about. Another cool thing about this mission is that I get to work with
many interesting people who I am very proud to call my friends.
My work at Cornell has also involved other space missions. I have
worked on the Cassini mission to Jupiter and Saturn, and the NEAR
mission to the asteroid Eros. I assisted with image sequencing for both
missions and will continue with Cassini when MER has ended. But Mars
demands most of my attention these days. Still, I am able to find time
to be a musician, a writer, and an artist.
The best advice I can give to kids who may be interested in a career in
space science is to explore what intrigues you, question everything, and
let your creativity flow.
The exquisite beauty of the night sky has captivated me for many years.
I cannot resist stepping into my backyard on a clear night and staring
at the blanket of stars above me. But ever since I was a child, my
first love has been writing. The Mars Exploration Rover Mission has
allowed me to bring together these two powerful forces in my life. I am
the editor and lead writer for this website.
Pam Smith at her desk working on the Athena web page.
During the three years that I have worked for Prof. Squyres, I have
absorbed an enormous amount of information about Mars and the rover
mission. I have been able to communicate with leading scientists from
around the world for the purpose of explaining complex scientific issues
and concepts in laymen's terms. Some of my favorite moments are the
spontaneous, one-on-one teaching sessions provided by Prof. Squyres when
I ask a question about the mission or Mars. These sessions are often
accompanied by broad strokes of a marker on the white board in my
office. Then I convey what I have learned to you through these pages.
I guess the groundwork for this combination of science and writing was
laid down in my college years. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in
communication arts from Cornell University. Note the words "science"
and "communication" in the same sentence. The "communication" end of
things would express itself in jobs at newspapers and radio stations.
But the "science" end of things would lie dormant -- perhaps expressing
itself in my fascination for science fiction and interesting science
facts. I have stacks of videos of old sci-fi movies, and folders fat
with newspaper clippings that run the gamut of topics from crop circles
It wasn't until I began writing scripts for an international radio
production company that the "communication" and the "science" began to
come together. I wrote scripts that were full of information about the
ocean, about nature, and about the environment. Then, Mars stepped into
my life -- and what a wonderful experience it has been.
Never did I ever dream that I would be taking trips to California to
participate in science team meetings at the Jet Propulsion Lab. Never
did I ever dream that I would be in the same room with spacecraft that
would be going to Mars. Never did I ever dream that I would be part of
a mission to Mars! The pace is unreal, the days extremely exciting and
unpredictable, the experience -- Way Cool. I often say that it's like
hanging on to the tail of a comet.
Now when I gaze at the night sky and see the dusty red glow of a planet
called Mars, I feel like I'm looking at my second home.
So if you feel you don't have the "right stuff" to be part of a space
mission, think again. It could happen. Work at what you love and be
ready for wherever that love takes you. Your journey may be out of this