Brian Day

Education and Public Outreach Lead - NASA Ames Research Center

Where are you from?

Whittier, Calif.

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

I got my first telescope in the fourth grade: I remember very clearly the first time I found Saturn and saw its amazing rings from my front yard. I probably woke up the entire block with my shouts and exclamations! Soon thereafter, I joined the local amateur astronomical society.

My association with amateur astronomy allowed me to advance through a progression of larger and larger telescopes, and it inspired me to spend many nights on mountain tops and in observatories learning my way around the sky and a range of astronomical equipment. This association also led to my formal studies of astronomy, which extended through graduate school.

At the same time that I was being introduced to the wonders of astronomy, I was inspired by the adventure of the early manned space program. On the same day that I woke up ridiculously early to watch Alan Shepard's first space flight, my parents came home with my brand new baby sister -- that was a very memorable day. I watched every launch from then on through Skylab; however, no new siblings were forthcoming.

How did you end up working in the space program?

I started out as a volunteer at NASA Ames doing some work on one of their web sites. As the people here got to know me, my interests and my experience, opportunities to turn this into a career became available. I frequently tell people that volunteering is a great way to get to know the various projects and organizations within NASA. Volunteering also helps you to see what most interests you, allows key people to get to know you and gets your foot in the door.

Who inspired you?

The astronauts of Mercury through Apollo were a major source of inspiration for me as a child, as were the astronomers Carl Sagan and Patrick Moore.

While I was growing up, I especially benefited from a wide range of mentors in the amateur astronomy community. Amateur astronomers are a dedicated group of diverse individuals who make real contributions to the science of astronomy. They discover comets, asteroids, supernovae, and are a key source for observational data in many areas such as variable star studies. This key aspect is why astronomy is different from most other fields: amateurs/citizen scientists can still make important discoveries. Becoming a part of this community at an early age provided me with inspiration and direction which still guides me to this day.

What is a Mission Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Lead?

I work to communicate the goals, scientific foundation and excitement of a mission to the public. This means working with the mission's science team, developing a solid understanding of their work and then representing it to a wide range of audiences in ways that are accessible and exciting.

I also particularly emphasize in finding ways in which students and the public can directly participate in the mission. That way, the public can help make valuable contributions as citizen scientists and participate in the excitement of lunar exploration.

During the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission, I worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the GAVRT Program to have students (from their classrooms) take remote control of big 34-m deep-space communications dishes at the Goldstone Observatory. These students helped monitor the health and status of our spacecraft in flight, providing additional coverage during gaps in the mission's time on the Deep Space Network.

For the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission, I have worked on programs encouraging ground-based observations of lunar meteoroid impacts and meteor counts during the course of the mission.

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

There have been so many.

Participating in Mars analog field studies in places like the Atacama Desert, Lassen Peak and the Mojave Desert stand out. Getting the chance -- at the last minute -- to fly on NASA's Aurigid MAC mission and observe fragments of comet Kiess burning up in the upper atmosphere was also quite special (thank you Peter Jenniskens! Working EPO at a space shuttle launch was indeed also unforgettable.

However, the best for me was probably the launch of the LCROSS lunar impactor (a mission I had worked on since it was just a proposal) from Cape Canaveral. There, I was able to gather students and amateur astronomers to participate in the mission for its launch. This place, the site of so many launches that had inspired me as a child, was now where I was able to share the excitement of a Moon launch with a new generation of young people. As LCROSS thundered into the sky, I enjoyed the moment all the more knowing my mother was there too, watching from the VIP area.

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

Don't get discouraged! Especially when it comes to space missions, a high percentage of proposals that you work on will not be selected for funding. These are only failures if you don't learn anything from them.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy wine, travel and chasing solar eclipses. I have chased the moon's shadow to view solar eclipses from such exotic locations as the wilds of Africa, the heights of the Andes, the jungles of Central America, the Outback of Australia, the frozen wastes of Northern Mongolia, the base of the Great Wall in China, and the beer gardens of Germany.

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

Stick with it! An education focused on the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) will give you a broadened range of opportunities when it comes to career choices. It will also enable you to better cope with the accelerating changes technology will bring to your future workplace. However, as important as STEM subjects are, your success will be closely tied to your ability to communicate. Make sure that your education includes elements to help you to write and speak effectively, and frame your technical work in a social and historical context. This will help you in the crucial task of explaining your work's relevance and worthiness for funding.

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Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.