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Career Conversations: Discussion between YA Librarian Llyr Heller and JPL Missions Operation Engineer, Keri Bean

DISCLAIMER:  This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of realtime captioning.  The primary focus of realtime captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Hello everyone, and welcome! My name is LLyr, I’m a librarian at Teen’scape. Welcome to our next installment of Career Conversations. Just a few housekeeping rules, please silence your cellphones; I will double check myself, bathroom locations are right out and downstairs. We're kind of above the bathrooms.

This is our second career conversation that will be recorded for our podcast so thank you Tina for being here. So your voice will be recorded if you ask a question but we're not taking video. So thank you so much. I would love to introduce Ms.Bean, she works at both…or she's a missions operation engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory plus more, and I'm very excited to ask her all these questions about science. Welcome! Thank you for being here.

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Thank you for having me.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Awesome. So we're just gonna start. This is a very relaxed kind of a career conversation, so if you have a question while we're talking just kind of raise your hand and we'll ask it next, instead of what I have here. Sound good? Awesome, alright, so if you wouldn't mind, we also have this: Ms. Bean brought an awesome slide show and just let me know when you want me to move any of it. The first one would you describe what you do and the many hats you've worn?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yes so I have about seven jobs at JPL right now. I started there about four and a half years ago, and so my coolest job that I'm about to start training for is actually to become a Mars rover driver. We call them Rover planners because not only do they drive the rover they also operate the robotic arm so I am formally starting training for that in a few weeks. My first shift is February 5th, so coming up here, and up until then I've actually been working on the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers for on and off about 10 or 11 years now, and I started out as a student on the science team working with the cameras, and when I got hired at JPL, I had to stop working on them for a little while and then I came back, and I'm what's called a Tactical Activity Planner Sequence Integration Engineer. TAPSIE. See! You know we love acronyms here at NASA, and that eventually migrated to being what's called a Tactical Uplink Lead or TOL and the TOLs are the people in charge of the rover on a day-to-day basis. So when I come in, I'm in charge as a whole team, and I kind of come up with the basic structure of the plan of we're going to, drive for an hour, then take pictures for 30 minutes, we're going to talk to the orbiters, and then take a nap, or something like that. And my favorite part of that job is at the end of the day I get to sign the sheet of paper that says you have permission to sign, you know, send this plan to Mars! So it's kind of cool to be responsible for a Mars rover. The other mission I work on right now is called Dawn, which is in our main asteroid belt orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres and I like to call it NASA's TIE fighter because it has Ion engines and if you don't know, TIE fighter stands for Twin Ion Engine, and so we actually have three, so we're kind of a Tri fighter, but we've been orbiting around taking pictures, getting lots of information in the asteroid belt. And those are kind of the two main missions I work on right now, but while I was a student, I worked on a couple other missions, like the Phoenix Mars Lander, the Hubble Space Telescope, a couple others as well. So.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): That’s amazing! Oh so in terms of schooling what do you recommend for teens and young adults and even people returning to schooling?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): I would definitely say follow what you find interesting, when I worked on the Hubble Space Telescope I found that I didn't really like astronomy as a career path like actually doing the analysis on the images that sort of thing I didn't really like that I still love bringing out my telescope and looking at the stars, but as a career path I found they didn't enjoy it. And you know anything can help out the space program most recently my boss was actually a biomedical engineer, and she's now applying that towards robotic arms on spacecraft and at JPL, not only do we have, you know scientists and engineers, but we have a whole artist Lab. They have, they kind of combine science and technology and art, and they have a lot of really cool installations. We also you know have lawyers and all sorts of other career paths including librarians, you know you don't have to be you know super math genius to work for NASA. But that's my advice is follow what you find interesting and eventually it'll lead you to the right spot.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Great and in terms of that and the different paths one can take are there internships or specialized training that people can try to get to? Is their volunteerships, or is it like high school internships, college internships etc.?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah so NASA is pretty good about having interns. There's several NASA centers all across the US; in Los Angeles proper there's the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and if you feel like going just to the other side of the mountains, there's Armstrong, and we hire hundreds of students every summer, both at the high school and college level to come help out, and you can build hardware, or you can write code, or all sorts of things. So if you're really interested, I think internships are really the best way to kind of find out what you like because it's a short time commitment, and so you can find out very quickly if you don't like that particular field, and then the next summer try again with something else.  

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Thank you. Any questions so far, should I continue? Yes.

SPEAKER 3 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Can you talk a little bit about your communication background, and how you entered this field?  

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah, sure; so at that point… can jump to the slides real quick cuz it'll kind of show… um, so I always kind of had a passion for weather, like I grew up mostly in Texas, so severe thunderstorms are pretty common, and it wasn't until mid high-school that I actually got interested in space, so the picture I'm showing right here is a picture of my mom took of me looking at a space shuttle launch, and we were so far away you could barely see it so I kind of circled it, and even then it's kind of hard to tell but I happen to see STS-114 which was the return to flight after the Columbia disaster, and I thought that was super cool and was really interested in it. So you go the next slide: I then spent the subsequent two summers its base camp in Huntsville Alabama, wanting to know everything about space and totally geeking out.

And…click next, so at that point I didn't really know what I wanted to do because I had this new found love of space, but I had always loved meteorology, and I finally decided I'll just go to school for Meteorology, and I'll figure out something for grad school, and I since I was in Texas, at the time the only, like public school that has a meteorology program is Texas A&M, so that's where I went. And at one of the orientations I was wearing a NASA hoodie, and one of the professors said, hey are you interested in space? And I said yeah, you know, space is really cool, I love it and she said well you should go talk to this Dr. Mark Lemmon guy, I don't know what he does, but it's space stuff, and it's cool, so I went home and looked at his profile, and he's been working on NASA missions since Galileo, and he's worked on all the Mars rovers, and he studies the weather on Mars. And I was like, that's it! The weather on Mars!

So I like in particular showing this collection of photos, so up on the top you can see me graduating from high school that was May 25th 2007. On the bottom left, you can see my advisor Dr. Lemon and I. That was on the Phoenix Mars Lander, which landed on Mars, May 25th, 2008. It was exactly one year to the day from when I graduated high school, I was in Mission Control as the images are coming down from Mars, and I was the person responsible putting them up onto the screen for the rest of the scientists to look at. So I kind of have to say, that was… that was… a bit surreal. And so the photo on the right, was us again, this is at JPL when I was still a student, and we were both working on the curiosity Mars rover, and at that point we were both on Phoenix and Curiosity, we worked on Mars time so a Mars day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth Day, so your schedule’s constantly going around the clocks… are kind of trapped with the couple hundred, you know, scientists and engineers for a couple months, for the first couple months of the mission and it's quite fun. So I just kind of wanted to show the, the progression over time…click next… So my very first research project while I was an undergrad, was actually studying data from the Spirit Mars Rover. Unfortunately she got stuck, and we stopped talking to her in 2010, but her sister is still going and in fact turns 14 next week, and it's all 5,000, the five thousandth day of the mission, is February 15th, we’re planning it, 16th the data comes down, and that's just fantastic… for a mission that was only supposed to last 90 days. So, kind of out living our life here. Click next. So here's some photos of when I was at the Phoenix test bed. So occasionally, we do different things in our test bed because on Mars, it's obviously harder to get to, and harder to fix if we break something, so when we're doing something new, we always test it here on Earth first as best as we can. So that was really fun, I worked on the camera team and took lots of the pretty photos that you see on Mars from that mission; that was pretty fun. So here's some photos from that landing night on Phoenix you can see all the different photos, as I was putting them down you can't really see where I'm sitting on the computer there, but my mother said it was really surreal watching NASA TV, and seeing my face, because the camera of course wanted to hover right over the person that was you know, popping up the images, and she just thought it was really weird.

So I do like hugging Rovers as you probably figured out by now. So this was on one of my very first visits to JPL, and decided to give a hug to Curiosity. You can also see that they've gotten bigger over time, so this one's, you know, the size of a car, and the previous one’s about the size of like a golf cart maybe, and before that it was shoe box size. We're kind of exponentially growing in size. The next Rover is actually going to be a duplicate of Curiosity.

You can click next…So I talked a little bit about Mars time already, so it's really fun because, you start out, you know, one day your shift is at 8 a.m., and the next day it's 8:40, and the next day it’s 9:20, and eventually are coming in at 3:00 in the morning, and what's fun is since you're trapped with all these people, you know, first you learn where the 24-hour restaurants are, second you start to have, you know, parties and barbecues. So I distinctly remember one time we were having a barbecue about 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, because it was the end of our day, outside in the neighbor's yard, and all the people are coming out, you know, on their way to work, and they're just staring at us like, what are you doing? So that was pretty fun.

I also like showing off the girl power of the missions especially in spacecraft operations. It's actually pretty gender balanced. I have yet to figure out exactly what it is that has caused it to be so gender balanced, but the group I'm in at JPL called Science Planning, is actually more women than men, and I don't know what it is in particular, but it's really fun, and it’s…it’s kind of refreshing, you know, everyone is talking about. It's… even at JPL, and other groups at JPL, that there's so much, you know, dominated by men, there's… or like one girl will be the only one in that group, so also most of my bosses on both sides are women, as well most of the way up the management chain, so I find that kind of refreshing and exciting, that you know we're heading towards gender equality.

So, now at JPL, so I talked a little bit about the Dawn Mission, and so you can see kind of the spacecraft in the background there, and it's a fairly simplistic spacecraft we mostly have a camera, a spectrometer of two different types, and then we can use the spacecraft itself for what's called Gravity Science. Understanding the internal gravity structure, and I've been on that since I started at JPL in August of 2013. And I started before we arrived at Ceres, the dwarf planet, and then I've been there since then, and the mission is coming up to its end, we're about to run out of the fuel that we use to turn the spacecraft, so probably by the end of the year we’ll run out, so right now we're kind of designing their cool end of mission plans, which is going to put us into an elliptical orbit, so some parts will be very close to the surface. We haven't quite finalized the data and the orbit that we're going to use, that but we're going to be very, very, close to the surface somewhere between 25 and 100 kilometers, which is pretty close. Our lowest orbit so far was at 375 kilometers which is actually closer to Earth than the International Space Station is to Earth, so we'll be getting nice and close.

And I suppose I could talk about a little bit about the art you see there. So that was actually a friend of mine’s, one of my side hobbies, is actually R2D2 building. I have a lot more pictures of it, but you'll see a lot of pictures of me wearing R2D2 themed clothing inside. So also wanted to show off this photo. Dawn recently won an award, and they spent…flew most of the team to Washington, it was awarded by the Smithsonian, and so they flew most the team, we had this fancy gala, and I just wanted to show off some of the girl power on Dawn, as well, so those are a mix of systems engineers, sequencing people, and our media relations person as well.

So now I'm working on the Opportunity Mission most of the time, you can see on the left, that's me in our testbed. We were testing out some new different ways to drive the rover and then I also like to dress up as Rey, I'm really obsessed with Star Wars, especially Rey, so it's pretty common that I go to work dressed as Rey. And so you can see there, and you can see the little plaque that Opportunity has there. Not too long ago she actually crossed over driving a marathon’s distance on Mars, so we actually had a marathon at JPL to celebrate that so of course she had to get the first placard for… yeah… you know, winning the race first.

 So here's some more photos of my R2D2 building. I do occasionally take them to JPL, and I've gotten some help on the side, from JPLers, is when there was mechanical stuff that I didn't quite understand, but I wanted to show off some of the photos of me building it as well, that this is an accessible hobby, if you are so inclined. I’m such a Star Wars fan, and I've gotten some help from… especially being in LA… there's the whole prop builder side, you know, entertainment industry, so I've been able to get some help there for the stuff that I just didn't have the equipment access to or something like that, but I've tried to do most of it myself with it with my husband.

And going along with Rey, I'm also a member of the Rebel Legion, and so I dress up as Rey, and go to different events, like libraries, schools, nonprofit organizations, that sort of thing, and dress up as Rey to entertain kids. And, for all the work I did this past year, I actually got invited to go to the world premiere of The Last Jedi, so the photo there is me meeting Daisy Ridley, which was like, the highlight of my life! (Laughs)

So, I think that's all I had on the slideshow, so that could hopefully gave you an idea of a little bit of my career path and hobbies. So here's kind of a list of ways that you can keep in touch with NASA. Just about every mission has their own Twitter account that keeps you up to date on what we're doing. My personal account is @PlanetaryKeri, and there's some websites here as well to keep up to date with what our missions are doing.  

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): And you are very active on social media and as someone who is working in the field what platforms are helpful and what do you recommend people you know kind of know about?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So I'm mostly active on Facebook and Twitter and I actually do help with some of the social media for NASA as well, and I actually started that way back with the Phoenix mission that's when Twitter was kind of getting started, and Facebook pages weren't even a thing yet, and so I was able to kind of help guide NASA and write some of the original rules, and help other missions learn how to use social media to reach out to people. And so I've always found kind of a connection to Twitter because that was kind of the first ones I really got attached to, and so what I've been doing is kind of posting what my life is like at JPL, because I know that not everyone can do what I do, there just aren't enough jobs in that field, and so I try to do… like follow along, so other people can feel like they're walking along in my shoes as well. Um, and I have met some really amazing people. The vast majority of my friends I met through Twitter at JPL, before I actually got hired at JPL, so I found it to be a really unique platform that I enjoy.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Okay any questions?

SPEAKER 3 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you do your own sheet metal work?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  I do not do my own sheet metal work. I do some of the cutting, but like the actual like shaping of R2’s dome and that sort of thing, I just didn't have access to the equipment for, but like cutting out the panels and everything, using a dremel to cut all of that out, we did ourselves. So.

 SPEAKER 4 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Was there a particular path in high school, particular classes that you took to prepare for a career in science?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So, luckily I went to a high school that had a lot of dual credit programs where you take the high school class, and then a local Community College also awards you the equivalent degree credits. And I also took some classes remote online, through Texas Tech, and I also took some of the AP classes as well, and so I kind of was motivated. I wanted to…when I got to college I wanted to spend the time on the meteorology classes and the classes more relevant to my major, so I tried to get a lot of the English and History and stuff that I wasn't interested in taking again another time, out of the way. So I actually graduated with 36 credit hours, which is equivalent to a whole year of college.

So if you have access to that in your school, I’d definitely recommend it. There's a lot of good online programs now, as well, that you can take, and it's a bit cheaper than actually taking a college class at a university. So, if there's any way that you can do that it's a great help.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Any other questions?

SPEAKER 5 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you work on any other robot models?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So yes so right now just R2D2, my husband mostly, he did this as somewhat of a side project. We built one out of K’nex, just the snap together kids toys that we call K’n3x, and it's as full scale as it can be just because of K’nex piece sizes you can't get quite precise to the blueprints, but it is fully functional. It has arms that move in and out, it drives, it talks, all that kind of stuff. As good engineers, you have to testbed and tinker with stuff first before you move on to the real project, so that was kind of our testbed version before we got to working on the real aluminum R2D2. And I keep telling my husband we're gonna build BB-8 next and rolls his eyes but I'm hoping at some point, and a friend of mine really wants to build Chopper because she cos-plays as Hera, so I'm going to hopefully help her build Chopper from the Star Wars Rebels cartoons as well.

SPEAKER 3 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you see a future with humans colonizing on Mars’ surface?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  I would really love to see, you know, humans make it to Mars and we know the resources are there, and we're actually going to send on the next Mars rover it doesn't have an formal name yet, we're just calling it Mars 2020 now. It actually is having a sample caching system on it with the hope of returning it on the next mission. So then we'll be able to really understand, with our high-powered instruments here on Earth, what actually is in the soil, did it have life in the past, and could existing life now. So we're getting there, or we're inching towards answering the questions and getting prepared for humans on Mars.

 That Rover also has an instrument on it that's actually going to be a technology demo. The Martian atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, and so it's an instrument that will hopefully convert that carbon dioxide into oxygen that humans can breathe, so they're sending a test unit now of, will that technology actually work there to prepare, yeah. (Laughter) Yep! So we're starting to inch towards preparing for humans on Mars.

SPEAKER 6 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): So earlier you talked about how you test things before you send things to Mars, like what methods do you use to test them on Earth to mimic the effects of Mars that can happen?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So, a lot of instruments are put into vacuum chambers where we can make it simulate the Martian atmosphere. We also can do full vacuum tests. We also do a lot of vibration testing; the launches themselves to get the spacecraft out of Earth and on their way are very intense. They're very loud, they're different thermal environments than what you would have on Mars. Mars is very cold, whereas, if it's sitting on top of a rocket, either, you know Vandenberg Air Force Base here, or Cape Canaveral, you know Cape Canaveral is pretty muggy, and occasionally has hurricanes and that sort of thing, so you kind of have to make it for all sorts of environments, or figure out how to protect it beforehand. And so a lot of what they do is vibrational testing for the actual rocket launch, thermal testing you know it'll also be in space where it'll experience huge temperature swings before heading to Mars. So we try and do as much of that as well. There's also radiation testing, because you're in space, outside of our magnetic field, and so you're not protected in that way ether, so there's a lot of different types of testing that they do, and sometimes they'll do it, at like the component level, sometimes they'll do it at the instrument level, and then they'll also do it again once the whole spacecraft is built together and assembled. There's some really huge chambers at different NASA centers that can test various things.

 SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Any questions? Yes.

 SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): There were a bunch of pictures in which you were hugging the Rover?


SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): We visited JPL a few years ago with a class, and it was in a sterile room, with doors going in, and wearing some kind of suit completely…can you explain that…

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  Yes. So those are just models. Those aren't the real ones. Yeah, yeah, I would not do that to the real one. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, they wouldn't let me near it. (LAUGHTER).  

 So yeah, I actually have not even gone into one of the clean rooms at JPL, or at any NASA facility, since I work in the operations. I work on it once it's actually gone into space, so I only get to see from the viewing gallery just like the rest of the public.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): So you, Oh sorry go ahead…

SPEAKER 8 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Where do you see the solar panel technology going in the next decade or so?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): I think it's just going to get better and better. So the Dawn Spacecraft I work on, it was actually the largest spacecraft launched at the time, because we were going out to the asteroid belts, you need even bigger solar panels and we got beat by the Juno spacecraft, which was using solar panels at Jupiter, so you need even more and bigger, and, they're also more efficient, and so as they get more efficient, and more compact, I think we're going to see more solar powered missions going to the outer planets, because at least up until very recently, Jupiter and beyond, you had to have the radioactive isotope thermal generators, which is basically radioactive decay generating heat, which they convert into power. That was pretty much the only way that you could send a mission to the outer planets, and now we're starting to see that technology get better, so I'm hoping as the technology increases, we can see more missions, and able to go the outer planets. It's kind of hard to get nuclear material, and it's a lot cheaper to get solar panels, so I'm really hoping to see that field expand.

SPEAKER 4 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you use AR or VR Technology?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah so that's actually a very interesting field of development right now using AR and VR technology there's one program with Microsoft Holo Lens, where they're trying to enable the different scientists on Curiosity, and then future missions, to actually be able to all converge into like a 3D model of the current terrain on Mars, so they can discuss what rocks they want to go explore in real time. Instead of sending around images where you've circled something in Photoshop or something like that, all the scientists can kind of converge together and discuss the plan for the day, in real time. So there's a lot of discussion about other future applications like that to make it easier for collaboration across Universities and the whole world.

SPEAKER 9 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do think that converting the oxygen on Mars, I mean the carbon dioxide on Mars, into oxygen would make the planet even colder?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Um, so at least at the scale we're doing it, and even for future humans, at least for now, it's it wouldn't have enough of an impact, but in the future that could potentially be an issue, but at that point, I think humans would also be generating more atmosphere, so it may kind of be a wash. And Martian dust also, as humans are around, maybe more Martian dust gets kicked off, which would also have a bit of a climate impact as well, but it's certainly something to think about,  all these balances that you would have.

SPEAKER 10 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you think there will be solar panels on the instruments or spacecraft?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  I don't know. I wasn't there for the building part of any and spacecraft, but I know that a lot of spacecraft actually do get built for other facilities, and instruments built at Universities that then integrate, so we're not… A NASA spacecraft isn't necessarily all built by NASA. I know that several of the instruments on the spacecraft I work on did not come from NASA. The Dawn Mission, none of the instruments were NASA instruments. One was from the Los Alamos Laboratory, and the other ones were from Italy and Germany. So there's a lot of international collaboration as well. But maybe like, you know, we built the spacecraft bus, and then put all the instruments on there and that sort of thing.

SPEAKER 8 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you know if there are any internships over the summer?

Yeah, so JPL has a lot of internship programs from high schoolers, college students, grad students, that sort of thing. This is about the time of year where we start hiring for the summer, so if you're interested, I would definitely check out our JPL website and look for internship opportunities. We do offer internships all year-round, so if you're at a local University and want to work for a semester, we also have those sorts of opportunities as well. And they can be in anything from coding, to building parts, to, I think the art department offers some, maybe library help as well. Kind of all over the place. You just kind of apply with a resume, and they'll find a good match for you.

SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER):  And are those on the weekends or…just the summer?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  It depends on what you're going into, but the summer ones, they would expect you to be there Monday through Friday, and they typically have fun events on the weekends as well, but there's a whole bunch of Aerospace companies in LA, so I know every summer they have the LA Aerospace Games where they take over, I think Dockweiler Beach, and every company has a team, and they compete like intramural kind of events, so there's a pretty good community among all the internships everywhere as well.

SPEAKER 8 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): I was interested in finding out for my nephew whose actually a physics major. Uh, what kind of opportunities are…cause I know right now he’s also looking for other opportunities now that he’s uh getting his bachelors of science, and uh what kind of opportunities are there to offer for uh, the business aspect of uh, JPL?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah, so physics is super applicable just about anywhere, because it's kind of a basis for engineering, basis for math, basis for science, so it's super flexible, and JPL is hiring like crazy right now. We have so many spacecraft missions that are in development, we're desperately hiring people to come up with the latest and greatest ways to do these missions, so if he's got a resume, I would say take a look at JPL's website and apply.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Yeah excellent. So your career is very collaborative, from what we see in the pictures, and where you've talked about, how do you keep your relationship strong; also is networking important in science?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah so I would say networking is definitely important especially even though my particular area is very heavily gender-balanced, it's still positive to have that network of positive people around you to help encourage, you know I'm definitely suffering occasionally from imposter syndrome, as others so we kind of help lift each other up, and I found that to be really important aspect of being there, and also just networking not only within JPL, but across you know different universities, and that's part of why I'm so active online, is I find lots of interesting opportunities that way. Last year my husband had to go to Barcelona, for work, and I said I'll tag along, and while he was working, I was giving talks at different universities with people I found through Twitter. And so I found that to be particularly interesting as well; building that network of people that you wouldn't necessarily have met otherwise. So, and then, I guess even in college, my advisor was very helpful, and he would take me along to operate all these different spacecraft missions, but I found it very useful just to go to different science conferences and that sort of thing, and introduce myself.

The worst thing that's gonna happen if someone's gonna, like ignore you, or not talk to you, or you know, if you're interested in something, send them an email, and once again the worst thing they're gonna do is not respond. So I know it's somewhat hard to reach out sometimes, and have that confidence to be able to reach out, but I found most people are really interested in what they're doing, and they're more than happy to talk to someone that's actually interested as well.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Never hurts to try.  

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yep, exactly.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): So no matter what age you are. So one of the questions I like to ask is, Is this a good feel for both extroverts and introverts?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): I definitely know a lot of introverts and a lot of extroverts. You can definitely, if you are an introvert, and you just want to work in your corner, and work on one particular aspect, that's totally fine.

In spacecraft operations though you pretty much have to be an extrovert because you're negotiating… I'm kind of the interface between the scientists and the engineers. The scientists will come and say, we need this type of data, you know, images at this time of day, at this lighting angle, to do our science, and the engineer’s, like, you want to do what with my spacecraft? And so I kind of have to be the boundary in between, and the translator between them, and help them understand on both sides. Why is it important to do this particular observation, or maybe we could slightly change it, and be able to work with the engineers guidelines, that sort of thing. So I found that to be kind of fun, and so we're all kind of extroverted.

We also like to give talks like this, because we're so used to translating between the scientist and the engineers. It's somewhat easy to then translate to the public, and so we're also kind of extroverted, giving lots of talks. If you all should show up to like local Comic Cons, we're always usually there giving talks about our missions as well, so.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Any questions?

SPEAKER 3 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you build Earth ship domes on any of the other planets?

No. right now we're just sending our little robot explorers to kind of scout things out. You know, there's definitely lots of talk of what future habitats would look like on different planets, and so you know domes or will we go underground into the lava tubes to also give us some radiation protection that sort of thing. So that's also a field of discussion, I know that’s going on right now, is how would we actually design the habitats for humans on different planets?

 SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): So it sounds like your…your days are very different and usually my question is what does a day look like for you? But what does a week look like for you?

 SPEAKER 2 (KERI): So it pretty much looks like you would think of any normal office job I sit in my cubicle writing emails making PowerPoint slides working in spreadsheets all that kind of stuff but at the end of the day you have the cool results of your work then influences the spacecraft exploring our solar system. So at least on a day to day basis most of it just looks kind of like any other day job it's just the subject that it's about is pretty cool.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR):  Okay! Excellent. Can you talk a little bit about… I sensed a lot of interest about the R2D2 Club… yeah and how do people get into that, like, does someone need to know how to build them or is there different things they can be doing to help?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yes there's a whole Club of builders. Our main website international forum is called Astromech.net, and there we have blueprints and people can make them out of whatever they're interested in so I built mine out of mostly aluminum, with some resin some 3D printed parts. Some people will build them out of styrene, which is just kind of sheets of plastic that then you cut and glue together. People have 3D printed ones, it's kind of whatever material and form you look comfortable with. There's also when I know that was built entirely out of Lego and I also have the K’nex one as well. So, it's fun and you don't have to build R2D2 you don't have to the standard blue-and-white droid. People have invented their own color schemes, or picked a droid in the background that has a different head, or a different color scheme, and they'll go for, you know, those as well. It's just kind of what you're interested in, and what drives you to building one and I've in particular the way I got interested, was someone I actually met on Twitter. It was like, can I come get a tour of JPL? And I said, yeah sure, and he said, can I bring my R2D2? And I was like what?! (Laughter). And he said, yeah I built my own R2D2, I'd love to drive it around, and I had to go looking, and you know our internal rules of like, can people just bring random robots here? Like, it wasn't a weapon it wasn't that you know and I couldn't find anything that explicitly said you couldn't, so I said why don't you come like right before Halloween, and so he came a couple days before Halloween, and pretty much the instant that I saw it I was like I want my own we drove it all around JPL, and it was really great rolling down the streets, because people will come running out of the buildings, and they really go, Oh my gosh! R2D2! And at one point like, one of the cop cars came screaming around the corner, and I'm like nope, here it is I'm fired. I'm gonna, be you know, strolled out, you know. Like no, we're just on the security cams, and we wanted to get pictures with it. And then the same thing happened with a fire truck, because he was leaving. So it's quite a hit.

  You know a lot of people at JPL are inspired by different, you know sci-fi, Star Trek, Star Wars, all that kind of stuff, and so getting to see that, and very recently I gave a tour to a friend who has a full C-3PO costume as well, so I brought in my R2D2 and n his C-3PO, and we were walking around, and as you can imagine, that was also quite popular. So that's awesome it was kind of funny, you know, gives a little bit of a distraction. It's fun. And you know, I consider my R2 to be done, but not complete, so he drives, he lights up, and he makes sound, which is what I can start done. And next we want to add in all the robotic parts of him. Because what's R2 really without, like the personality of opening all the panels, and all that kind of stuff. I've got a lot of the hinges, installed but not the motors wired up, and that sort of thing, so his arms will move, the panels will move, his head will move, all that stuff, but my husband I are working on a kitchen remodel right now, so kind of taking our priority over R2D2. But once that's done, R2 can continue to be tinkered on.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): That's awesome! Any other questions?

SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER):  Where do you find the instructions? Is it something you just go to You-Tube, how to build an R2D2?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah, so if you go to Astromech.net, there are blueprints and the forum is very helpful. So if you have a particular issue, it's more than likely someone has run into the same problem before. So there's a lot of how-to's, people build individual parts. We're not allowed to sell kits, because of agreements with Lucasfilm, but you can buy individual parts. So like one person will make the dome, one person will make the set of lights, one person will make the skins that go on the outside, that sort of thing. So you can also buy parts through other people who have access to the machine shops, and like yes, I have access to JPL's machine shops, but not for personal use like this, so I had to go through other methods.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR):  Well another question we've been getting a lot, is, love seeing all the women, all the groups of women that work on all the projects. Is there a push for diversity as well? So can you talk a little bit about that?

 SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yeah, so JPL being a very technical workforce, is actually going through a lot of initiatives to try and increase the diversity inclusion at JPL. We often have talks about all sorts of things like impostor syndrome, unconscious bias, and all those sorts of subjects. There's a lot of training; the mandatory sexual harassment training, all that kind of stuff. And so I found it to be that they're making an effort to make sure that everyone is included, and we have a diverse workforce.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR):  Great! Any other questions? We about ten minutes… Yes sir:

SPEAKER 8 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): You kind of alluded to this in your talk, but what kind of a typical work day do you expect to be working out?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): So at least to JPL, we work what's called a 9/80 schedule, so we have every other Friday off, which is pretty nice. A lot a lot of places do that which it's really nice especially with LA traffic, you don't have to commute quite as often. And at least, it also kind of depends on what project you're working on so on the Mars rovers, we'll have what we call shifts, where you have to report by a certain time, and then you are staying there until you are done planning for the day, which can be anywhere from three hours. If you have a really short plan that you know what you're doing anywhere. I think the longest I've been there is about 11 hours. Because there's a lot of debate about what we were doing, and so all that kind of stuff. So I found that particularly, is not common at JPL it's more common to just kind of come in you know in the morning between eight nine o'clock and leave, five six o'clock, when you're nine hours they're done for the day. And you know, a lot of people can work in the machine shop building the parts, or that sort of thing. I found spacecraft operations to kind of be the fun part. You know I've been called in at 3:00 in the morning when there's an issue with the spacecraft, and you know, some people be like, I don't want a job where I have to think about it outside of work, but you know, I work on robots during the day, and I work on my R2D2 at night. Robots is my life so I found spacecraft operations to be kind of my favorite. It's technical but social. One of the reasons I kind of left the scientific field is I found myself enjoying the work, but socially, I wasn't talking to anyone. I was just sitting in a cube by myself, writing code or reading papers, and I wasn't having fun. Whereas with spacecraft operations, I'm still reading papers and doing technical work, but I have to talk to people, and so that is why I think I was particularly drawn to that field, and having a science background going into that is useful because a lot of the engineers don't understand the science, or vice versa. And so, (Coughs), I've got kind of a hybrid look at both worlds.

 And so typical days, you know I'll come in, answer emails, work on spreadsheets that sort of thing, but at least I'm talking to people, and I know the result is pretty cool because then I can look at my phone later in the day and see the pictures that I took on Mars coming down, so that's pretty fun.

SPEAKER 3 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you have a favorite book or author for high schoolers to look into the robotics?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): So at least for books, I was always more of a fantasy nerd, reading more like Lord of the Rings, that kind of stuff. So I'm like one of the few people that didn't really like science fiction. I think I really only like Star Wars cause it’s like wizards in space, but so I don't know, particularly for like robotics books, I'm sure there's a lot more out now than there used to be. Do you have suggestions?

 SPEAKER 1 (LLYR):  We do have a lovely, (Laughter) these are all available for checkout, but we can always write up a book list for you if you want to chat afterwards. I can email you a book list.

SPEAKER 9 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): What type of coding software do you use?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI): Yes, so the question she asked was what type of coding software we use. I personally don't do a whole lot of coding, but I know that we use Python, we use what are other ones people use… I guess technically I do code, but it's special software old software written for the Rovers. When we write a command, it's kind of a line by line, there's not really a lot of like, logic, it doesn't really look like software, per se, but any programming language. Once you know one, it's pretty easy to hop between them, so it can be pretty useful. I know Python is pretty common these days, but I don't know off the top my head what other ones people use. I think Pascal is pretty popular, C+ is pretty popular, but I don't know that I would know others, off the top my head, that are being used, but I'm not really connected much like to the software engineering side of JPL.

SPEAKER 3 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): So is there anything else that you think is necessary, besides the technical aspect of being a scientist that you need to be successful? Besides being knowledgeable, yeah, just being an expert?

 SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So I have found being enthusiastic really helps. To really care about your job. Like there are some people that just, you know, want to check the boxes, and go home at the end of the day, but for this, you know, my brain never really shuts off right, so I would try and find what it is that you find interesting, that you don't want to stop doing, and you know, sure, being good at math will help, all that kind of stuff, learning a programming language, but at the end of the day, it's really can you learn how to do the job, and can you do it well. And that requires kind of some self-driven enthusiasm for the work as well. Don't know that I would have any other like, real skills because it just kind of depends on what you're interested in, like if you're interested in programming, I would try doing some cool programming tasks, that sort of thing. I think it also kind of takes like a personality type of kind of being self-driven. Reading all the time, that sort of stuff.

SPEAKER 10 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Do you have any, like um a job base where, like career opportunities, like as far as the requisites, uh , that they are looking for as far as being able to obtain certain positions, like as far as what they are looking for? Like for myself, uh, when I’m doing a job search, I can look for what it is they are looking for to see if I kind of meet their criteria, how do I start working towards that?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So I know what JPL's website, in addition to the, like, the job listings, they kind of have a general, like, career paths at JPL, that would give an idea of what they're looking for, but I found at least at different NASA facilities, it's not really like what your qualifications are, because as I mentioned my boss was in biomedical engineering, and is now works on robotic arms for spacecraft, and there are lots of people that have very different degrees. One example I'll give is my friend Doug. He used to work in the UK, and he got a degree in multimedia design, and he actually worked for a medical imaging company, and he was very interested in space on the side. So during the day he would do medical visualization stuff, but at night he would take the images back for the Mars rovers, and processed them make them into the panoramas, into the color images, and then he got noticed by NASA for his work, and when he lost his job in the medical industry, JPL said, Well why don't you come work for us? And now that he has gotten his green card he actually is commanding the cameras on the Mars rovers now. And that's like my favorite career path story, is his story. So just your hobby can lead you to JPL.

 I that's why I don't want to say like go get a degree in XYZ, because it really takes everyone. It's really more almost a personality type than a like check mark list of things. I mean it certainly helps if you have a, some sort of STEM degree for sure, if you want to work in a more technical side, but I think it just kind of takes that passion, and that energy, and that drive to really get there.

SPEAKER 4 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Did you know you were going to do this since you were in like, high school?

 SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  Somewhat. So I was always interested in in weather. Just even as a little kid my parents said all I ever watched was the Little Mermaid and The Weather Channel. And it wasn't until I gave a talk very recently that a kid said well you probably like The Little Mermaid because I had the big storm in it. I was like, oh my god, (Laughter), and so I don't know, I had, just was always kind of drawn to it, and now I actually don't do a whole lot of weather stuff at all, but it kind of started me on the right paths, eventually finds what I really liked, so if you have something that you've always been interested in, you know that may not end up being what your career path is, it could be something you know, kind of related on the side. But just kind of keep finding out more information what people have done. You know I have been saying for the last couple weeks since I found out I'm starting Rover driver training, of like, who knew a degree in meteorology could, you know, put you behind the driver's seat right? That's, that's not a common thing, and I've been joking I'm gonna turn it into a storm chasing robot, which they haven't really liked, (Laughs), but I think in particular at JPL, I've noticed, that as long as you can get in the door, you can kind of go wherever you want, and find out what's interesting to you. There are people that, you know, I mentioned my friend Doug, but there are lots of other people who have degrees that have nothing to do with what they were doing now. But, it's just what they found interesting, and they learned and moved on.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR):  That is so true, that is so true, I was a film major, and now I’m a librarian. Any last questions?

SPEAKER 4 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): What is your last name?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  My last name in Bean. Yes, no relation to Al Bean the astronaut.

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Last question?

SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER):  Are people able to take tours into different departments that are like outside of the JPL days? Can you, just as a student call up and tour, certain parts of the facility?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  Yeah so JPL does offer general public tours, but I would definitely recommend coming on our open house days. You do have to get tickets in advance but they are free. I believe the next one coming up is the second weekend of June, but I would double-check that online, and you have to get tickets in advance, but we open up a lot more of the lab the Micro devices lab you can see the clean rooms Mission Control all that kind of stuff and a lot of the actual engineers like myself actually staffed the booths it's not like the public relations folks, although they are there helping out, but at that point you can actually talk to different people and get an idea of the different career paths they are there at JPL so I would definitely recommend coming on those days. I know I'll definitely be there!

SPEAKER 8 (MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER): Should I call the ticketing office?

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  I don't know unfortunately I just saw that they posted the dates, which is I think it's a June 8th the 9th?  But I just only saw it this morning so I don't know for sure.


SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  So, the reason we offered tickets now is because JPL got so crowded that we were like blocking traffic for miles, and like it was really bad, so now we've offered tickets to more, moderate it. My understanding is that the tickets went quicker than Comic-Con tickets do, so definitely keep an eye. They’ll post, you know the tickets will open up on a certain day and time, and just keep your eye out and we'll offer them just about every year. I think, I think sometimes we’ve even done them twice in one year, so just keep an eye out and hopefully you can take a look.

SPEAKER 7 (FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER):  Can a school do, schedule a visit, or like a small group? A Robotics club? Are they able to?

 SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  Yeah so, JPL does offer educational tours. I don't remember the link off the top my head, but if you google like, JPL tours, there will be a couple different options. You can sign up for either the general public tour, or they will offer slots for educational groups as well. And if there aren't any available you can always call the Education Office and they'll hopefully be able to work something out with particular groups.

 SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): Well thank you all so much for joining us thank you so much for being here!

SPEAKER 2 (KERI):  Thank you for having me! (Enthusiastic clapping).

SPEAKER 1 (LLYR): And thank you so much for recording.