Kim Orr

Web Producer - Jet Propulsion Laboratory Education Office

Where are you from?

The short answer is Phoenix, Arizona. That's where I spent most of what I suppose were my "formative years." But I was born in Upstate New York and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, until I was 10. I moved to Southern California for college (and the beach) and it feels like I was meant to be here all along.

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

I watched way too much TV as a kid and I remember when cable switched to digital and suddenly there were all these extra channels I'd never heard of. Sometimes I'd go channel surfing to see what was out there. One day I happened upon NASA TV, which was showing just a live feed of Earth—no commentary or music, just silence and Earth. I was completely transfixed. I remember thinking how incredible it was that I could go to a channel on my TV and see Earth from the vantage point of space. It was the first time I really stopped to think about how amazing it was that mankind had invented ways to leave Earth and explore other planets—and at the same time, how much there was still to explore.

How did you end up working in the space program?

Web producer Kim Orr at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

I grew up loving science, especially biology and geology. Until my junior year of high school, I was pretty serious about wanting to become a veterinarian. I attended camps and workshops and had even picked out the colleges I wanted to apply to. But I realized that year, when I took a course in AP biology, that I liked learning about science more than doing it. So I switched career paths to my other passion: writing. After I graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in journalism, I went to work as an editor for a business magazine, but set my sights on working for a magazine where I could combine my passions for science and writing. One day, I was combing job sites and saw a listing for "Web Editor" at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At that time, I had no idea there was a NASA center in Southern California. I'd just figured there was one NASA center in Florida, where they launched the space shuttles. It soon became clear that I'd stumbled on my dream job -- a job where I could do creative work at a place that's actually doing the science and exploration I'd always read about in those magazines.

Who inspired you?

My love of science, writing, editing and design come from my parents -- my mom, especially. Her background is in nursing, but she's written and edited a number of publications and has a strong creative side, too. Both my parents are fans of language and writing, so growing up those topics would always sneak into our dinner-table conversations.

What is a Web Producer?

A web producer helps create the content you see on a website, whether it's articles, videos, graphics or games. Sometimes the web producer creates the content themselves or with a team, and sometimes, they hire other experts to produce the content for them. It requires a lot of creative thinking, planning and organizing, and the ability to understand different audiences and what they're looking for. I've been fortunate in that it's also allowed me to get practice and build up my skills in a number of creative areas beyond writing, including graphic design. It's a great job if, like me, you're interested in all kinds of creative expressions and finding ways to combine them in engaging ways to tell a good story.

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

Kim Orr wearing RoverView glasses at JPL
Kim Orr poses in front of the Mars Curiosity Rover model with her "RoverView glasses" at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

I'd been at JPL for just few years when I got to experience my first landing -- and it was perhaps the most knuckle-biting yet. At the time, I was a web producer for the JPL news website and for weeks, we'd been releasing videos and articles about how risky -- and seemingly impossible -- the Mars Curiosity rover's landing would be. In addition to never being tried before, it required that the spacecraft perform every maneuver in its landing process perfectly -- and each maneuver sounded crazier than the last. The night of the landing, my team was tasked with posting Curiosity's first images from the ground once it was safe on Mars. I'm an optimistic person, but I was fully prepared to release contingency statements instead. Then, one by one, the mission team called off each successful maneuver: "Parachute deployed... decelerating... powered flight... sky crane... touchdown confirmed. We're safe on Mars!" The room erupted with applause. I took a minute to bask in the swell of pride I felt to work at JPL and be surrounded by such incredible, talented people. Then it was time get to work sharing that pride with the rest of the world through the first photos sent back from the rover that could.

Web producer Kim Orr
Kim Orr in front of an emu mural at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

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

Never stop learning and being curious. So much of what I do is made possible by my curiosity and my passion for learning -- even when the subject is something I may not plan to become an expert in. And because the web and technology changes so fast, it's important to continually expand your knowledge and skills so you can adapt with the times. Along those same lines, I always recommend to young people who are interested in studying communications or visual communications to double-major in another subject. The skills you learn in communications will serve you well in any field -- and, as I found out, will open doors in some unexpected places. But you can really set yourself apart if you can combine your communications skills with your knowledge about and experience in a particular subject.

What do you do for fun?

I'm sort of a hobbyist of hobbies because I'm always finding something new I want to try out. My consistent favorites are travel, food, arts and crafts, and outdoor sports like biking, surfing, rock climbing and hiking. I've been to more than 20 countries and most of my trips have involved some if not all of those hobbies.

What advice would you give a student interested in science, technology, math or engineering (STEM)?

Get involved in STEM in any way you can, whether its participating in team competitions, visiting museums, attending star-gazing parties or even just exploring online, to learn about all the places STEM can take you. Since I've worked at JPL, I've discovered so many fascinating careers I never knew existed -- many that make me want to go back to school for a STEM degree just so I can do the amazing things these scientists and engineers are doing. Although, writing about them is pretty stellar, too.

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.