Some Projects Take a Career to Yield Data

On Friday, I posted a review of the articles in the 16 August  issue ofthat have interesting career angles—or all but one article. In Richard Kerr’s News Focus article, “Pluto, the Last Planetary First,” Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, called the arrival of the New Horizons probe at Pluto—expected in July 2015—”an epochal milestone in the exploration of the solar system.”

If Stern were funded by the National Institutes of Health, he would have had to renew his grant five times.

I was pretty young, 31, when we started on this. I am now 55. So I think I know something about what you’re asking about. One has to make a judgment about getting involved in projects this long. In my case, it was pretty easy—the exploration of a new planet and a new type of planet was a scientific gem in my eyes. I consciously decided to devote a big fraction of my career to it, knowing that if we were successful, it would be an amazing scientific accomplishment and contribution—well worth the years. I still feel that way. We are not training replacements for my New Horizons team, but we are full of young people, from postdocs in their 20s to engineers, flight controllers, and scientists in their 30s and 40s. The science team’s average age—i.e., those of us who started this, is near my age, or a little older, but a lot of much younger people will be sharing in the excitement, the research, the publications, and the limelight when we get there.

Elsewhere in Science, 16 August 2013

Underemployed In China