While we still don’t understand a lot about Earth’s weather, Keri Bean is focused on Martian weather. At first she wanted to be a storm chaser, then a broadcast meteorologist and then work for the National Weather Service. But after watching the STS-114
launch in 2005, she started to get interested in astronomy and planetary science. The next two summers she went to space camp in Huntsville, AL and since then she has been going with the flow.
"Working for NASA is incredibly fun yet challenging work, and the people I've met and learned from make it worth it!" (Keri Bean with Mars Science Laboratory in the clean room at JPL.)
Bean recently earned received a Bachelor’s degree in meteorology with a double minor in math and earth sciences from Texas A&M
in May 2010. She is staying at her Alma mater to pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric science. “Most people don’t really know what planetary science is,” she said, “and I typically have to explain it with the follow-up ‘I study the weather on Mars’
Before she started at Texas A&M, she visited the university and a professor noticed her interest in space. The professor then recommended that she talk to Dr. Mark Lemmon
who had conducted research on Mars. Starting her first week as a freshman, she went to Dr. Lemmon’s office and listened to the planning meetings for Spirit and Opportunity. By simply asking around, her college career had a great start. By the end of her first semester she had already started a small research project. While other people may have been at the beach or back at home, she spent her first spring break at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
in Houston. That summer, she went to Tucson, AZ with Dr. Lemmon to work on Phoenix
and she “fell in love with spacecraft operations and data analysis.” She has since been published in a few papers relating to the meteorology at the site and has been involved with numerous projects.
Opportunity recently caught an image of a Martian dust devil on the Red Planet
On Phoenix she was a Surface Stereo Imager Instrument Downlink Analyst (SSI-IDA) and was also a backup Instrument Downlink Engineer (IDE). Her job was to process the images as they came down every day and make stereo, coolor or panorama images. “I would make sure the camera’s telemetry seemed normal and help troubleshoot if a problem arose.”
She also did a lot of outreach including making and maintaining Phoenix’s Facebook page
She has been involved with other NASA missions such as the rovers Spirit and Opportunity
and Hubble. “In addition to studying the nighttime dust patterns from Spirit and Opportunity, I studied daytime dust patterns and brightness changes over time. With Hubble, I helped identify and refine data on Cepheid Variable stars in M81.”Currently she is doing follow-up work on her thesis and preparing for graduate school. She will also be working on the Mars Science Laboratory as an atmospheric scientist and camera engineer.
With all of her accomplishments in her undergraduate years, she has quite a future ahead of her. If she could have any job in the aerospace industry, she would want to be the principal investigator on her own mars mission. “To design my own Mars mission, see it be built, and then get the data back from Mars would be an incredibly rewarding experience.” However, she realized that she preferred astronomy as an exciting hobby and therefore would not want to be an astronomer.
“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields do a great job in making hard things look surprisingly easy,” she said. She talked about how she is “baffled” by the fact that spacecraft can be safely launched into space, have it land almost on target on another planet and then have the spacecraft fulfill its duties on a regular basis for decades. She encourages people to never be afraid to ask and that you don’t have to love math and physics to do STEM fields. “The STEM fields require a lot of time and effort, but if you truly love what you do, you will never ‘work’ a day in your life.”
Keri Bean’s enthusiasm for spacecraft and planetary science and passion for meteorology is crystal clear.