Last week, the planetary science community lost Nathan Bridges, a leading scientist whose work studied how wind sculpts the surface of Mars. Nathan was a prolific scientist involved in many Mars exploration missions, a charter member of The Planetary Society, a friend, husband, and father.
I knew Nathan from my role as the Director of Space Policy. We engaged often on the role of advocacy in the science community, and he went above and beyond as a scientist in this role. He “got it” for lack of a better term, and understood how important it was for scientists to be politically engaged and working to advance their role in public policy. He worked in this capacity at the American Geophysical Union and at his home institution of the Applied Physics Lab at John Hopkins University.
A relaxing evening in the Namib sand sea
Left to right: Dr. Roger Swart, leader of the expedition; Dr. Nathan Bridges; Casey Dreier.
My wife and I also spent a week traversing the dunes in Namibia with him last year, an experience that inevitably builds friendships through the rough-and-tumble nature inherent in the days of desert camping, hiking, and stomach-churning drives through dune seas. I vividly recall sitting with him on the slope of a 100-meter sand dune, drinking a cheap beer, and watching the sun in the glow of a dusty haze over the Namib sand sea.
He was a positive, generous, intelligent, and decent man. I will miss him.
I first crossed paths with Nathan Bridges in the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Initially just a voice on the phone during meetings for the Planetary Sciences Section, subsequent years of emails and in-person meetings revealed an outstanding scientist with a true passion for exploring worlds across our solar system.
For those who didn't know Nathan, you can browse some of his published work, which shows a focus on planetary surface processes, particularly wind processes and related particle transport. His recent work focused on Earth, Mars, and Titan, but earlier research included volcanism on Venus. Nathan's involvement in Mars missions spanned everything from Pathfinder to the upcoming Mars 2020 rover. The sands of Mars lost more than a few of their secrets to Nathan's scientific investigations.
While he was busy with research, Nathan's activities in the AGU demonstrated a tireless enthusiasm for planetary science in the broader community. Students received encouragement in their studies and valuable feedback on participating within professional organizations. A strong advocate for planetary science, he was active as the AGU Planetary Sciences Section Advocacy Representative. Nathan regularly worked to bring the voices of colleagues to the attention of Capitol Hill to encourage healthy support and budgets for ongoing exploration and discovery.
It's remembering the times of casual interaction that I especially appreciate. Nathan's cheerful enthusiasm naturally spilled over to all aspects of life. Dinner conversation would easily shift from the latest Mars rover updates to sharing family stories. We've all lost a brilliant fellow explorer who cared deeply not only for the worlds around him but the people he encountered throughout the journeys to those near and distant worlds.