For her, space rocks!

For her, space rocks!

Ocampo ’83 studies other planets to learn about ours

Adriana Ocampo’s dream of exploring space was launched from a rooftop apartment in Argentina.  As a small child, “I literally couldn’t go to bed without looking at the stars,” Ocampo said. “I was fascinated with them.”

Baikonour rocket launch.
Courtesy Photo

Thousands of miles from a place where space exploration was a reality, in a country where finding a book on space was an admirable, almost impossible feat, Ocampo ’83 would gaze skyward and enact imaginary space missions with household items.

That initial childlike fascination and fervor for exploration – which even led her to write to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) declaring her love of space and soliciting work at 14 – never left Ocampo. In fact, she said, it just grew stronger.

Today, after more than 25 years of working in the field of planetary geology with industry leaders like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA, a youthful exuberance overcomes Ocampo when she talks about her work.

“It’s incredible to think that many, many years later, after writing that letter, I was able to work for NASA,” said Ocampo, now a science program manager at NASA Headquarters’ Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. “And I respond to these types of letters now.

“We are here to have fun – and this – is fun,” Ocampo adds. “Things that we do here help us to understand our planet better.”

Shortly after moving to the United States with her family, she landed a high school internship on JPL’s imaging team, and met space engineers designing the Viking mission to Mars.

Adriana Ocampo’s advice is to reach for the:

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

Although as a young Latina, she was initially a rarity in the field, Ocampo charged forward. She pursued a degree in space engineering, eventually switching to the study of planetary geology – a field that was in its infancy at the time – at Cal State L.A.

As a planetary geologist, Ocampo uses satellite images and robotic spacecraft to study the surfaces, rocks and moons of planets to learn more about their history and formation.  One of Ocampo’s most significant findings was the team discovery of the buried Chicxulub crater that caused the extinction of more than 50 percent of the Earth’s species, including the dinosaurs, in the Yucatan peninsula. She now searches for hidden craters in satellite images of earth after studying similar impact marks on other planets.

Ocampo has worked on the Voyager mission to the outer planets and the Galileo mission to Jupiter. She has also helped build and fuel global space partnerships, spoken at dozens of conferences across the world, and been honored by several organizations for promoting science education, exploration and the participation of women in such fields.

“I’m proud of what I have done. My career now is really to serve,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of any of us who have been able to achieve any of our dreams to open the doors to others and make it easier for the next generation that comes along.”

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