March is Women’s History Month. March 2 is national Old Stuff Day — and there’s nothing older on Earth than the rocks and minerals that make up our planet. In celebration of both, this month we continue our series on notable women in science and history by highlighting the accomplishments of planetary geologist Adriana Ocampo.
Adriana Ocampo is a time traveler. Not with flux capacitors or slingshotting a starship around the sun, but as a planetary geologist — a scientist who studies rocks — she examinies the origins of the universe by studying the Earth itself. Through examining the rocks and minerals that make up our planet and satellites (our moon), planetary geologists develop theories that help us understand how and when our planet was formed. Planetary geologists work closely with paleontologists, anthropologists, physicists, astronomers, and other scientists to develop ideas about the creation of our world, and other worlds in our solar system, galaxy, and universe. The study of planetary geology provides us a link to our ancient past.
Adriana knew by the time she was 8 years old she wanted to work in space travel. Born in Colombia and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, her family emigrated to Pasadena, California when Adriana was 14. As she went through middle school and high school, she worked hard and always kept her goals in mind. When she was a junior in high school, she got a summer job at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which only served to feed her ongoing passion for science. After graduating high school, she began working for NASA at the age of 21, becoming a member of the imaging team for the Viking mission to Mars in 1976. Her work at NASA allowed her to be one of the first people to see the surface of Mars, when the Viking lander transmitted the images of the planet back to Earth.
While working full time for NASA, Adriana earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from California State University, Los Angeles, going on to get a Master of Science degree in planetary geology from California State University, Northridge. In 1984 she started working on the Galileo project, a robotic mission to explore Jupiter that was ultimately launched in 1989.
Galileo traveled to Jupiter and mapped the planet and its moons until it crashed in 2003. She also worked on the Juno mission to Jupiter, the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and many planet mapping projects. Adriana was part of the group of scientists who explored the Chicxulub Impact Crater in Mexico, believed by many to be a crater created by an asteroid that crashed into Earth. Scientists theorize the asteroid impact created a huge cloud of dust whch altered the global biosphere and may have been a major cause of the extinction of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
Ms. Ocampo has been a program director at NASA, a program executive at the European Space Agency and is currently back at NASA as a senior research scientist. For any young person looking for a career in science, she is a shining example of setting goals and achieving success. On her profile on the NASA website, Adriana says that the S.T.A.R.S. hold the secret to her successes.
- Smile, life is a great adventure
- Transcend to triumph over the negative
- Aspire to be the best
- Resolve to be true to your heart
- Success comes to those who never give up on their dreams
For more information on Adriana Ocampo, please visit:
Latina Women of NASA
Adriana Ocampo profile on NASA webiste
Article about Adriana Ocampo on U.S Department of State’s website.