Alice Wessen

Public Engagement Manager - Solar System and Technology Public Engagement

Where are you from?

My family resides in Altadena Calif., located right at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles Forest. We are so close, we were evacuated during the Station Fire of 2009. Because of where we live, I am president of my local Fire Safe Council, and actively raise funds to do brush clearance for our neighborhood.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

My mother was an armchair space buff and an avid reader, who devoured science fiction and delighted in sci-fi on TV or movies. She loved Buck Rodgers, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Kim Robinson, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula La Guin and so many more. She had shelves of paperbacks and was a frequent visitor to our library. She shared that love and would take us outside as kids, point to the constellations and start telling us stories of the night sky. To hear of all the stories associated with the constellations brought me to my local library, where I would read about mythology fables from across the world.

Then the Apollo missions happened. Story met reality, and my mother just thought that was magic. She sat in her chair, with tears. "Never thought I'd see the day."

How did you end up working in the space program?

My background was actually in finance, then social work coupled with a Master's degree in education with a focus on at risk populations—so I am the classic case of what not to do! And yet both have served well.

Who inspired you?

My mother and my husband Randii, who loves space and also works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). When my mom met Randii, the two of them hit it off so well I could have walked out of the room just to let them talk about space, and NASA, and science fiction and on and on. My mother passed in 2007, so I will forever cherish that she always got such a kick out of her son-in-law.

Of course it is only fair to say my mom also taught all six of her kids to fish. To this day, my brothers and I enjoy casting our fishing lures in rivers and watching meteor showers and telling stories. Thanks, Mom.

What is a Solar System and Technology Education and Public Outreach Manager?

We consider it our responsibility and an honor to give back to the public and to make a difference with students. We create materials for the public and students to encourage and support them in science and engineering and math. We work with museums, schools, educators and so many more. But if a student wants to be a storyteller, well, that would be wonderful too.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

Too many and more to come. Each mission has its many moments. It is great to share those with the missions I get to work with.

My career is only one part of my life. I also work in my community, I volunteer, I am president of my local Fire Safety Council raising funds as a non-profit to do needed brush clearance. Life is so much more than work.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

Passion and tenacity, coupled with patience and humor. All will serve you well regardless of what you do.

What do you do for fun?

Fish, fresh water preferred. Read. Movies. Cook with fresh ingredients and local produce. Catch a good meteor shower. Travel.

And we love hanging with our teens. My husband and I enjoy our kids and getting silly with them. They crack us up.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

Whatever you do be sure you love it. I was not a science, math or engineering graduate, but I love to work with engineers and scientists. My son loves physics, and my daughter likes chemistry, but they also both enjoy plenty of other things. Experiment, try things, work hard, and then follow what you love to do.

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.