Profile: Gaylon McSmith

Gaylon McSmith
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Gaylon McSmith is the science manager for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission, working with the scientists and managers of the instruments flying on the spacecraft. His primary concern is for the health and safety of these instruments so they’ll be available to collect their valuable science data for many years to come. Inasmuch, he manages the resources and provides support to the teams responsible for the operation of these one-of-a-kind instruments, those involved in the actual collection and storage of the science data, and the scientists that ultimately analyze the gathered data and distribute their findings to the world.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Fresno State University. Since coming to JPL in 1985, McSmith has held a number of engineering positions on various missions which include the Galileo project to Jupiter and the Deep Space 1 project to validate new technologies for future missions, to mention but a couple. He previously served in the USAF as a fighter pilot and was a flight officer for Continental Airlines.

A native of Southern California, he grew up only six miles from JPL and recalls the excitement he felt when this institution was a major player in the moon race with such missions as Ranger and Surveyor. He and his wife enjoy weekends in the desert community of La Quinta where they relax and play an occasional game of golf.

His advice for budding engineers or scientists? "Choose a major field of study that you’re interested in, NO, passionate about. There are many paths to a career in space exploration, so don’t get bogged down in a field of study for which you may not be well suited. As your education progresses, take the opportunity to attend events where you can talk with the people in the industry to better understand and confirm that this career field is still really what you want to do, and then make adjustments as necessary.”