Meet Pablo Gutierrez-Marques

Meet the Dawn Mission's Framing Camera Operations Manager, Pablo Gutierrez-Marques, from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.
The following is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
Pablo Gutierrez-Marques

What is your team's role in the Dawn mission?

PGM: The role of the Framing Camera Flight Operations Team is to ensure that the cameras continue to provide the images that the scientist need for the research of the asteroids. This includes ensuring that the plans do not exceed the capabilities of the cameras, preparing the commands that control the camera on board and receiving the images from the cameras for distribution to the science team.

How is your job important to the mission's success?

PGM: Without commands, the Framing Camera cannot deliver images, neither those intended for science nor the ones for precise determination of the orbit. Without these images, the mission would be blind.

What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the Dawn mission?

PGM: The most serious challenges that we face are basically two. The first one is finding a balance between the endless hunger for data of the science team and the extreme care for safety of the mission team. The second challenge is planning the activities months in advance to the very last detail only to find, as we approach one of the asteroids, that some of our initial estimates were not accurate enough and the plan needs to undergo a serious refit in a very short time.

Can you share one of the unique aspects of the Dawn mission that fascinates you most?

PGM: For me, the most fascinating aspect of the Dawn mission is the ion propulsion system and how it modifies the orbit of the spacecraft slowly but constantly until it suddenly just "happens to be" in the same orbit as its target.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who inspired you?

PGM: Already at a very short age I proved to be an engineer in the making. Toys at home had often an honorable burial after being disassembled and reassembled again, only to find that it originally contained some "spare" parts. My great inspiration was Thomas Alva Edison, which was an engineering genius, in spite of the fact (or perhaps thank to) that he was a not-so-nice person to work with.

What subjects were you interested in as a young student?

PGM: I always had a very broad set of interests, from literature, math, art, physics, medicine, architecture, biology, chemistry, but the two leading ones were mechanics and computer science.

Please talk about path that led you to this area of interest.

PGM: Although it might look like taken from a fable book, it was my father who advised me against enrolling the school of computer science. "You are already very proficient at computers and you will always be," he said. "Go find yourself something interesting that you do not know yet." So I registered for aerospace engineering and here I am.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

PGM: Long before I discovered the inescapable realm of science-fiction, I loved "20.000 Leagues Under the Sea." I guess it was the mix of the adventurous endeavors of the team with the technology world of Captain Nemo.

If there was one thing you wanted the younger generation to understand about space exploration, what would it be?

PGM: For me the most important aspect of space exploration is that it is not about machines and not about space. It is actually about people, from the visionaries that come up with a mission, to the politicians that support it and fund it, to the engineers and technicians who build it and fly it, to the scientists who exploit the data it delivers, ending in the whole mankind that profits from is as a whole. Space exploration is such an enterprise that no man can undertake on its own, so the most important skill for a future space engineer is team spirit.

What are your leisure time activities?

PGM: Currently I spend most of my leisure time with my two little sons, 6 and 3 years old. Watching them discover the world, overcome the challenges of their life and grow into independent persons is simply fascinating. I also read as much as I can, take long walks through the fields and plan travels that I intend to do when the family matters permit.

Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?

PGM: From very early on I felt the attraction of flight, but neither the military nor the private path were suitable for me to become a pilot. Later on I run into the opportunity of getting a glider plane pilot license and enjoyed the training a lot, including 30 tandem flights and 1 solo. Unfortunately the opportunity expired before I had a chance to get my exam, so I am still limited to flying in airliners, but hope to fly on my own at some point in time..

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