Emily Lakdawalla is a passionate advocate for the exploration of all of the worlds of our solar system. Through blogs, photos, videos, podcasts, print articles, Twitter, and any other medium she can put her hand to, Emily shares the adventure of space exploration with the world.
Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in geology from Amherst College and a Master of Science degree in planetary geology from Brown University. At both Amherst and Brown she performed independent research in structural geology. At Amherst, she worked with Tekla Harms on her field studies of deformed metasedimentary rocks in northeastern Washington. At Brown, she worked with James W. Head and Marc Parmentier on analysis of Magellan radar images and topographic data in the region of Baltis Vallis, Venus, to determine its deformational history. But her single peer-reviewed publication is about the MOLA topography of a putative stratovolcano on Mars.
Between college and graduate school, Emily spent two years teaching fifth and sixth grade science at Lake Forest Country Day School in Lake Forest, Illinois. That was long enough to convince her that even with exceptional students, a teacher's life is very hard. (Having lived through that, Emily is grateful to her favorite science teachers: Sharon Foster, James Aldridge, Sharon Hamilton, and Annette Dezelan.) Fortunately, Emily received inspiration from her work on the Lake Forest Country Day School fifth grade's annual interdisciplinary Space Simulation project, using a LEGO rover to explore paper-maché landscapes of the moons of Jupiter: was it possible to do field geology on other planets?
It was (and is). But Emily's career took an almost immediate turn upon her arrival at Brown. While procrastinating from the work she was really supposed to be doing, Emily discovered in Brown's Regional Planetary Image Facility the vast and (to her) never appreciated international treasure trove of planetary mission data just waiting in NASA archives to be uncovered and explored. Emily found her calling: to share these stunning views of other worlds with a world unaware of their existence. (And, as a result of dawdling among the archives, she only barely finished her thesis research.)
Emily came to The Planetary Society in 2001 to oversee a portion of the Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars project, an education and public outreach program on the Mars Exploration Rover mission funded by LEGO. Which, coincidentally, had grown out of the same educational program, a partnership between the Society and LEGO, that produced the LEGO rovers she and her fifth graders had built together. Emily ran worldwide contests that selected and trained high school students to travel to Pasadena to participate in rover operations training exercises in 2002 and then in actual Mars Exploration Rover mission operations during January and February of 2005.
Meanwhile, Emily first blogged (briefly) for the Society in 2002, as a member of a Society-funded team sent to Devon Island in the Canadian high Arctic to gather data to support future tests of autonomous software for Mars airplanes. She continued to write news articles for the Society's website for the next few years, covering a range of planetary science topics from outer planets to Mars orbiters to asteroid encounters, while also contributing articles to the Society's print publication, The Planetary Report. Another brief blogging effort coincided with the descent of the Huygens probe to Titan in January 2005, which Emily reported on from ESA mission operations in Darmstadt.
Then Emily joined the operations team of the Society's Cosmos 1 solar sail mission, with a tactical responsibility for the spacecraft's camera data. But she was also tasked with a communications responsibility of writing a blog about the mission, from before to after its launch. Many days of uncertainty followed the launch failure, during which Emily's attention wandered from the sad fate of Cosmos 1 to happier events in Cassini's exploration of the Saturn system and the rovers' adventures across Mars. When the Cosmos 1 mission was declared officially over, the Planetary Society Blog continued on.
Emily has carried on blogging ever since, with only brief lacunae following the arrivals of her daughters in 2006 and 2009. For nearly as long, she has contributed to the weekly Planetary Radio podcast, answering listener questions or rounding up the latest space news from the blog. And for almost exactly the same period, she has been an Administrator of the forum UnmannedSpaceflight.com.
Emily is also a contributing editor to Sky & Telescope magazine. She has written articles for them on Saturn's icy moons; amateur image processing; the Late Heavy Bombardment; the Curiosity mission; water on Mars; and the Kuiper belt. She is now writing her first book, tentatively titled Curiosity on Mars: Design, Planning, and the First Mars Year of Operations, due out from Springer-Praxis in 2017. The book will explain the development, design, mission, and science of Curiosity with the same level of technical detail that she delivers in the Planetary Society Blog.
As a result of her work with UnmannedSpaceflight.com, Emily has become a leader in a worldwide community of amateur space image processors. These enthusiasts take advantage of the enormous archives from five decades of planetary exploration missions, applying creative talent to the processing of sometimes gnarly data into scenes of awesome beauty. Emily frequently highlights their work on her blog and print articles.
Emily resides in Los Angeles with her husband (a professor of economics at the University of Southern California), two daughters, way too many LEGO bricks, and closets full of unfinished craft projects, from sewing to soldering. She can be reached at email@example.com or @elakdawalla on Twitter.
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