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Katie Stack PhD'14 - Two Years Later

November 2014

I can’t believe it’s been two years since the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover landed on Mars!

When I sent my first letter to the Caltech alumni community in 2012, Curiosity had just completed its first month in Gale Crater, and I was living on “Mars time.” The Martian day, or “sol,” is about 45 minutes longer than the Earth day, and I remember being so excited about writing to you to share my experiences on the rover team — at 4 o’clock in the morning!

Your generosity makes it possible for Techers like me to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like being part of a small team eating, sleeping, and working by the rover’s clock. And even though my days living on Martian time are only a memory now, my passion for the mission hasn’t waned.

Just as Curiosity was achieving a string of important “firsts” — the first scoop of Martian soil, first drill on Mars, and first discovery of an ancient habitable environ­ment — I was marking important milestones as a graduate student and scientist. I gave my first talk at a major scientific conference, published my first paper on rover results, and worked with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to submit an instrument proposal for the next Mars rover mission!

Collaborating with the scientists and engineers at JPL has been one of the highlights of my Caltech experience. In fact, my work on the Curiosity mission landed me a second home at JPL. I can spend the morning reviewing the most recent MSL data with my advisor and lab group at Caltech, and then pop up to JPL in the afternoon to conduct tests using a full-scale, operational rover model in the Mars Yard. This seamless balance between science and engineering is uniquely Caltech. And your gifts help sustain this one-of-a-kind environment.

After successfully defending my PhD thesis in geology this past June, I am ready to push the boundaries of scientific exploration and thrilled to continue my work on Curiosity and future rover missions as a scientist at JPL. As an alumna, I also look forward to giving back to Caltech—and I encourage you do the same. Together, we can support the New Generation of Techers.


Katie Stack Morgan PhD ’14