RBA: How did you become interested in space exploration?
Scott: I grew up in Marin County,
California, near the foot of Mount
Tamalpais, the birthplace of mountain
biking in California. Growing up, I always
wanted to be an astronomer. When I
was in the third grade, some lady came
to our school with telescopes, and we
spent the day looking at the sun, and I
thought it was the coolest thing ever.
And then in 1980, the television series
Cosmos with Carl Sagan came on, and
that cemented it for me. So, I studied as
much math and science as I could, went
to Stanford University to study physics,
and then went to UCLA for a PhD in
RBA: What projects have you
worked on in the past?
Scott: I worked on developing the
navigation software systems for the
Phoenix Mars lander in 2008, and the
Cassini spacecraft that reached Saturn
toward the end of 2004. I also did some
work on the Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter, as well as the Mars Odyssey.
And, of course, I also worked on
the most recent Mars lander
RBA: Tell us about Curiosity.
Scott: Well, Curiosity was the big
one. It was a directed mission, meaning
that NASA told JPL to do this mission. It
was a huge undertaking, costing more
than $2 billion, which was by far the
most expensive Mars project I’ve ever
come across. So, obviously, it was
important that everything about it be
done right. Fortunately, as a navigation
challenge, Curiosity was as quiet as a
church mouse. The spacecraft behaved
well during flight, and there were no
major problems with the software, so
the number of headaches was very
small. I work with an all-star team; we’re
all friends, very close, and so we work
RBA: Now that Curiosity is on Mars,
what’s next for you and your team?
Scott: Well, there’s another Mars
orbiter mission coming up called
MAVEN that will launch in November of
2013. I’m also involved with the nav sys-
tem of DSAC, or Deep Space Atomic
Clock, which will help improve naviga-
tion of future spacecraft. Beyond that,
there’s a few other projects in the works
that I can’t quite talk about just yet.
There is also an earth orbiter called
SMAP that we will launch in 2014.
RBA: Why are missions to Mars
Scott: Human beings are always trying to achieve something and expand
their reach. If we see a mountain, we
want to climb it. The Portuguese explorers took about four days to get to the
Azores (the same as we take to get to
the moon). Then people wanted to go all
the way across to the next continent.
For us now, that’s Mars. And the overall
importance is significant. From a scientific standpoint, in my opinion, Mars is a
huge betting favorite to harbor life, even
now. Maybe it’s just microbes, maybe it
was something more in the past. So if
we can compare it to life on earth, then
we’ll go a long way in figuring out where
we came from.
RBA: When will we be able to send
a human to Mars?
Scott: For the United States to send
a human to Mars, it literally depends on
who the president is. Without going into
too much detail, the 2030s is a decade
that we’ll be using as some kind of time
frame for accomplishing it. I do think
we’ll have humans landing on Mars in
our lifetime. Technology-wise, we’re not
too far away. The biggest concern is the
frailty of the human being. It would take
about eight or nine months for a human
to travel to Mars, and we would probably want them to spend around 200
days on Mars itself for research purposes. Add in the return leg home, and that
person is out there for a long time.
There have been several high-profile
studies involving long-term isolation
involving both individuals and groups,
and we’re still learning what the human
being is capable of as a space traveler.
BACK DOWN ON EARTH
RBA: What got you started in
cycling and racing?
Scott: Like most kids, I had always
ridden bikes. But in the summer of
1985, when I was 17 years old, the Tour
de France came on television. I thought
it was the neatest thing. It had the
drama of the battle between Hinault and
LeMond; there was beautiful scenery,
and it was just an incredible display of
athleticism. I then rode the Tour de San
Scott’s office is filled with a
plethora of smarty-pants
books and a wall of complex