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The “Secret” Lives of NASA Goddard Scientists

This post was authored by Stephanie Marcus, Science Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division and Coordinator for the Library’s NASA Earth and Space Lecture Series.

Structures at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. From the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs Division. //www.loc.gov/item/2011634851/

For fourteen years the Science, Technology and Business Division at the Library of Congress has partnered with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to bring scientists to speak at the Library in our Space and Earth Sciences Lecture Series.  In recent years, we have moved from six to eight lectures scheduled over ten months of the year, which gives us a great opportunity to meet and spend time with a good number of scientists and sometimes with their families, colleagues, and friends who attend the talks.  As the coordinator of the series for the last five years, I take them to lunch in the cafeteria after their talk and after the lingering audience members leave–the scientists are usually there for an extra half hour or more answering questions, and they are more than happy to do so.  After lunch, we go on my “special” tour of the Thomas Jefferson building.  I ask them about their interests, so I can be sure to show them, for example, Gershwin’s piano, the Stradivarius instruments, and the Coolidge Auditorium, if they’re interested in music.

Initially, I felt apprehensive about one-on-one conversations with these brilliant scientists, but I can now say that I have never felt intimidated, and not one of them has been anything but easy to talk to.  They enjoy talking about their missions and other science topics, but we also talk about each other’s backgrounds, jobs, families, hobbies and our local sports teams. One thing that has surprised me is how interested they are in learning about the Library—and how excited they are to give a talk here.

Musical endeavors seem to be a prominent pastime of many of these folks.  Jonathan Gardner, who is Deputy Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope and Chief of the Observational Cosmology Laboratory, gave his lecture in 2018:  Finding Our Origins with the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes. Gardner plays the guitar, and with his family, performs in a group called Transatlantic Crossing.  They specialize in fiddle tunes from both sides of the Atlantic, including toe-tapping Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, as well as New England and French Canadian tunes. Wife Anne plays fiddle, and often they are joined by son David on piano, accordion and flute, and daughters Elizabeth and Rebecca on fiddle and electric bass.  They have played at farmers’ markets and other local venues.

Patricia T. Boyd. https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/patricia.t.boyd

Patricia (Padi) Boyd, Chief of the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory, spoke in 2017 on: To Explore Strange New Worlds:  NASA’s Small Steps and Giant Leaps in Understanding Worlds Beyond.  She has been involved in music all her life, loves to sing, and is in an a cappella group of NASA employees called The Chromatics, who compose and sing about astronomy and physics. The group has been together 25 years and released a cd called AstroCappella as part of a NASA education outreach. A copy of their cd even flew on a space shuttle.

I often ask the scientists about their family lives and if they ever take a break from their work.  They are running very important missions and things are always happening, so they have to be on alert most of the time.  But some of them commit to leaving the work behind and being all family when they’re home.  One of these is Lori Glaze.  Dr. Glaze is now the Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division.  Prior to moving to headquarters, Dr. Glaze served as the Chief of the Planetary Geology, Geophysics and Geochemistry Laboratory at Goddard and as the Deputy Director of Goddard’s Solar System Exploration Division.  Her lecture in 2017 was: Venus: The Forgotten, Mysterious Planet.

Lori Glaze. https://science.nasa.gov/about-us/leadership/lori-glaze

Her girls are grown now, but in an earlier interview for Women in Planetary Science, she said:

“When I am at home, I am 100% mom. I carpool the kids, I was a Girl Scout leader; I made costumes for their performances, and worked backstage for every show (both my girls were in ballet and theater.) I take my mom job as seriously as my professional career.”

Another surprise about Dr. Glaze is her husband Terry. He came to the lecture with his wife- they were high school sweethearts, and he has always been very supportive of her career. His hair is really long (I was jealous) and we learned he’s a former rocker (singer and guitarist), still involved in music.

In 1986, Glaze left the group Pantera shortly before its members became global superstars. He’d helped found the heavy metal band in Texas five years earlier with brothers Vinnie Paul Abbott and Darrell Abbott, Tommy Bradford and Donnie Hart. Glaze was 16 years old at the time. Glaze has toured with Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, had a hit song featured on MTV, and has done shows with everyone from Bad English to REO Speedwagon.

Today, Glaze spends his time raising his girls — and playing with his band, The Crayfish, out of Bowie, MD. The band consists of Glaze, multi-instrumentalist Bob Porambo, Bowie city councilman and drummer Jimmy Marcos and bassist Tom Rodante.

Alex Young. https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/c.a.young

Solar Superstar Alex Young, Associate Director for Science, Heliophysics Science Division, is magic at a lectern.  The first time he appeared at the Library in 2016, he spoke on: A Space Weather Report: Preparing Space Explorers for Bad Weather.  He came back in 2017 and wowed an overflow audience with: The Total Solar Eclipse of 2017.  We couldn’t resist asking him back in 2018 to speak on: The Science of Space: Heliophysics and the Parker Solar Probe.  His special shoes have solar flares on them!  It may not be a secret life, but I can say he is a great fan of comics.  In 2017, at the time of his lecture, nearly 100 items from the Comic Book Collection were on display for “Library of Awesome,” a pop-up exhibit featuring items from the Library’s comic-book collections presented in conjunction with Awesome Con, Washington, D.C.’s annual convention of comics, cosplay, and pop culture.  We had a blast looking through the displays, and at the end there was a selfie booth where we costumed up and took photos.

Since lunatic shares roots with luna (moon) and Noah Petro is the Project Scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, currently orbiting the Moon, perhaps he won’t be offended if I call him a baseball lunatic.  He once said, “I love baseball like almost nothing else.” Dr. Petro, a geologist, spoke twice in our series, first in 2016 on: Walking with the Last Men on the Moon: Revisiting the Apollo 17 Landing site with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and in 2019 on: Apollo at 50: The Lasting Effect of Exploration of the Lunar Surface on Our Current Exploration of the Moon. During the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017, he officiated in Oregon over the nation’s first baseball eclipse game delay.  The path of totality didn’t pass over any major league stadiums, but it did over a few minor league stadiums and NASA personnel held four-day ‘EclipseFests’ at those.

Finally, there is Douglas Rowland, Chief of the Ionosphere, Thermosphere, Mesosphere (ITM) Physics Laboratory in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard, and a man with several secret lives. His lecture in 2019 featured tales of sending up sounding rockets in Norway: Exploring Our Escaping Atmosphere: Going Above the Top of the World to Touch the Sky.  In his neck of the woods in Maryland, Doug is known as the King of Karaoke, a hobby he really enjoys. In pre-Covid-19 days, he might have been hosting a karaoke party with friends on the weekend or entertaining at someone’s birthday party or the local pub. He also takes voice lessons so he doesn’t sing like some of those folks who give karaoke a bad name. He might be spied here and there sporting a kilt—and he’s well into finishing up a sci-fi novel.

The secret lives of our other former speakers will remain secret for now.  Perhaps if you need a break from your other lockdown activities, you might enjoy watching the webcasts of these lectures, and imagining those scientists in their lives outside work.

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One Comment

  1. Margaret R Clifton
    December 8, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Great piece, Steph, I miss this so much!

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