Richard O'Toole is a member of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Executive Council, is currently the executive manager of the Office of Legislative Affairs, and, as an additional duty, is vice chairman of JPL's Strategic Management Council. He joined JPL in 1975 and served as a group supervisor and section manger in the Systems Division before taking over his current role in the Legislative Affairs Office in 1988. He received his bachelor's degree from Brown University and a doctorate in economics from the University of California at San Diego.
Three Earth missions launching in 2014 will take a closer look at our home planet to study various processes and their link to climate change. The Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, spacecraft will measure soil moisture from space. ISS-RapidScat will measure ocean winds from its perch aboard the International Space Station and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, will study carbon dioxide from space.
Having finished its exploration of Vesta in September 2012, capturing stunning views of the giant asteroid’s surface, Dawn is currently on its way to its second destination, Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft designed to orbit two different bodies after leaving Earth, a feat enabled by its ion thrusters, which are much more efficient than a typical spacecraft engine.
The Juno spacecraft, on target for a 2016 arrival at Jupiter, is designed to study the gas giant to better understand its origins and evolution, . Because of its mass, Jupiter still holds much of its original composition. By peering beneath Jupiter’s thick cloud cover and investigating its core, intense magnetic field, auroras and atmospheric composition, scientists hope to collect important clues about the formation of the solar system.
Launched in 1977 â shortly after its twin, Voyager 2 â the Voyager 1 spacecraft has spent more than 35 years journeying through the solar system. It surpassed Pioneer 10 in 1998 to become the most distant human-made object. And in August 2012 it became the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space, a newly defined region of the solar system described as “the space between stars.”
After a nail-biting landing on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity, the largest and most technologically advanced rover yet, got straight to the goal at hand: searching for signs that the Red Planet could have once supported life. Not even a year later, an analysis of a rock sample collected by the rover showed that ancient Mars could have, in fact, supported living microbes. The mission, which is designed to operate until the summer of 2014, is currently continuing its exploration of Mars.
Since the mission’s first light in June 2012, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has begun sussing out black holes, supernova explosions and active galaxies using a first-of-its-kind telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures. The observations could help astronomers crack unsolved mysteries about black holes.
Serving as the world’s premier spacecraft communications and navigation system for more than 50 years, the Deep Space Network, or DSN, consists of giant antennas stationed at 120-degree intervals around the world â in Goldstone, Calif., Madrid and Canberra, Australia. The network’s 230-foot (70-meter) antennas are capable of interpreting even the tiniest spacecraft signals from billions of miles away. The network also works as a science instrument in its own right by using radio signals to study the composition of planets and track the trajectories of near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets.
Technologies originally developed for space missions often find their way to Earth to improve the quality of day-to-day life. As one example, JPL researchers have partnered with the City of Hope to explore the potential of carbon nanotubes -- used in various space applications to help produce electrons -- to diagnose and treat brain tumors. Initial studies on mice have shown that the tubes are an effective and non-toxic means of transporting cancer-fighting agents to the brain.
About twice the size of California's Disneyland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a 177-building campus situated in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to a mission control center and 9,600 square-foot clean room, the lab is home to a simulated Mars landscape called the Mars Yard, as well as a 25-foot space simulator.