Celebrating Black History Month: A Navigator

JPL's David Jefferson in mission control During the Stardust mission, Jefferson reviewed real-time tracking data from the spacecraft as it approached Earth to deliver the sample return capsule.
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February 27, 2007

By day, he navigates spacecraft through the depths of outer space, but by night, he's a keyboardist and music composer. David Jefferson, a JPL employee for 15 years, currently works on the Mars Odyssey navigation team. Previously, he was a member of the team that guided the Stardust capsule back to Earth in January 2006, and the team that put the Deep Impact spacecraft on track for its encounter with a comet in July 2005.

David grew up in Queens, New York. While attending high school, he spoke with a family member who was working at an aerospace company. Those conversations sparked David's interest in working in a space-related research environment.

"I was doing well in math and science, and I was really excited about the work NASA was doing with the Shuttle and Voyager, so I decided to try aeronautics in college," he says. A lot of hard work earned him entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., where he received a degree in aerospace engineering.

Jefferson says he enjoys working in a science-related industry because it allows to him to explore and constantly learn more about our solar system and beyond. "Space is attractively mysterious," he says. "It's such a great opportunity to work at a place that makes new discoveries about space and even our own planet, all the time."

David says it is important for young African-American students to study engineering and science. "When we work in those positions, we are playing an active role in shaping the destiny of the country and working on improving our community as well."

As much as he loves traveling through space "virtually aboard" different spacecraft, David loves music and plays the keyboard with various bands performing around Southern California. When he's not trying to keep up with his two young daughters and spending time with his wife, Dawn, who is a writer, he tries to find time to record his own music.

Media contact: Natalie Godwin/JPL
(818) 354-0850

Images

JPL's David Jefferson

Jefferson prepares notes to begin an orbit prediction analysis for a Mars orbiting spacecraft.

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