Immigrant of the Week: Adriana Ocampo of NASA

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The role immigrants play in American culture is the key for the innovation and diversification of this country. This is why I always love telling everybody at NASA that I am an immigrant…that has been my role, to bring a different perspective that is essential for innovation…..I also tell students that they must have the courage to move forward with their dreams and believe in themselves.” – Adriana Ocampo

Adriana Ocampo: The Power of Childhood Dreams

Adriana Ocampo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, but her family moved to Argentina shortly after her arrival on Planet Earth. “Space exploration was my passion from a very young age, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. I would dream and design space colonies while sitting atop the roof of my family’s home in Argentina,” she said.

“I was raised to believe you could do anything you wanted with effort, time and persistence. It didn’t matter if you were a girl.”

When she was 14, her family moved on to Pasadena, California, and she claims that when she got off the plane, the first thing she asked was “Where’s NASA?” The summer after her junior year (third year) in high school, she got an internship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, JPL is the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.”

She began working for NASA at the age of 21, becoming a member of the imaging team for the Viking mission to Mars in 1976. Her work at NASA allowed her to be one of the first people to see the surface of Mars, when the Viking lander transmitted the images of the planet back to Earth.”

While working for NASA, she got her Bachelor’s degree in Geology from California State University, Los Angeles, then her Master of Science degree in planetary geology from California State University, Northridge.

“In 1984 she started working on the Galileo project, a robotic mission to explore Jupiter that was ultimately launched in 1989. Galileo traveled to Jupiter and mapped the planet and its moons until it crashed in 2003. She also worked on the Juno mission to Jupiter, the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and many planet mapping projects.”

She explains her job as a Science Program Manager like this, “Some of my duties include being the New Frontiers lead program executive. New Frontiers includes the Junomission to Jupiter, the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the recently selected asteroid sample return mission: OSIRIS-REx. I am also the lead Venus scientist responsible for NASA’s collaboration with ESA’s Venus Expressmission, JAXA’s Venus Climate Orbit and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG), which develops strategic plans and assessments for the exploration of this planet.”

Ocampo is Conducting a Research on “Chicxulub”

adriana_ocampo_2Image Source: Icesi

That would be enough for most people, but she is currently working on her Ph.D. at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Her dissertation topic is the Chicxulub impact crater; she was on the team that discovered it.

What is Chicxulub? It’s the impact crater of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. “in 1991, researchers found evidence that the giant crater near the town of Chicxulub (pronounced CHEEK-she-loob) in Mexico came into being about the time of the mass extinction. The explosion that created the crater, which is more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide, likely involved a hit from an object about 6 miles (10 km) across. The crash would have released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, or beyond a billion times the power of the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Soon-to-be Dr. Ocampo was a Girl Scout, and she still quotes that group’s recipe for success, which in a marvelous twist is STARS.

Smile: Life is a great adventure
Transcend to triumph over the negative
Aspire to be the best
Resolve to be true to your heart
Success comes to those who never give-up on their dreams


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XpatNation is a Social News and Lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences of ex-patriots living in The United States.

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