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Meet: Richard Cook

Flight Operations Manager
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California


Who I Am

I am the flight operations manager for Mars Pathfinder. This means that I am responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the spacecraft after launch. My background is in aerospace engineering, specifically the design, development and operation of space missions. I started on Mars Pathfinder five years ago, and my first job was to identify the interplanetary trajectory we will use to get to Mars.

My Career Journey

I have always been interested in math, science and space exploration, but I really didn't decide to be an aerospace engineer until I got to college. I got a BS in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder. CU has a good aerospace engineering department, so I ended up taking some classes in orbital mechanics and space mission design. It was so interesting that I decided to get my MS in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. After graduating from UT in 1989, I came to JPL and have been here ever since.


My parents had the greatest effect on steering me toward math and science. My dad was a geophysicist for a large oil company, so I got interested in science early. I also had a couple of professors in college who got me specifically interested in aerospace engineering and orbital mechanics.

Likes/Dislikes About Job

The best things about my job are the technical challenge of building a spacecraft and sending it to Mars and the great team of people we have working on Mars Pathfinder. It has been an amazing experience to see an interplanetary spacecraft built from what started as a set of viewgraphs. The people who work on Pathfinder are some of the best at JPL. We have created a real team atmosphere, partially because we are doing something new, innovative and difficult. The part of my job I like the least is going to all the meetings that this job seems to require. We don't always get very much done at these meetings, but they are a necessary evil.

Personal Information

I live in San Gabriel, Calif. with my wife and brand new baby girl (age three months). She is our first child, but we also have two cats. We spend our free time working around the house and yard, cooking and playing with our baby. We like going out to dinner, watching movies and reading books. My wife and I grew up near Denver, so we also like to ski (but don't get many chances in Southern Calif.). When I was a kid, I thought I would be a geologist when I grew up. That's kind of funny now, because I work with a lot of geologists. One day I hope I can work on a sample return mission that will bring back a rock for those geologist to look at.