I guess science and religion don’t mix? Don’t Say That to Mars Rover Scientist Reverend Pamela Conrad

When Reverend Pamela Conrad looks up at the sky, you are really looking up at the sky.

At night, and at odd times during the day, Conrad plays a research scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Tactical Operations Team at Mars Rover Enduring MissionShe is a research associate in two scientific instrument groups, data acquisition and analysis, And cooperation in the planning team, with Colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and other science institutions around the country.

By day, the 68-year-old is an Episcopal priest, who leads a congregation at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

It has always been conceivable that science and the humanities, not to mention science and religion, are two fields that are not mutually intelligible and look at completely different problems. This idea has faltered in recent years, as academic disciplines have given way to interdisciplinary approaches.

Conrad trained as a geologist, among other disciplines, he had other ideas.

“There is no clash between science and religion,” she said. “Both look at the wonders of the world and our place in it.”

of rocks and people

Crossing these disciplinary boundaries was not easy, at least not for the pioneers, who had to overcome much institutional resistance.

“The academic system forces students to be scientists or humanists. And it doesn’t realize that the same mind and some of the same technologies underlie both art and science,” graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda, former professor at MIT Media Lab, once told me.

“Our goal should be to produce Renaissance people with an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems, da Vinci people who are interested in everything and can do anything.”

“I studied everything,” Konrad said. A quick look at her credentials reveals who Maeda was talking about.

She graduated from George Washington University in the US capital, got her start as a musician and along the way discovered and fell in love with geology. In her first year and a half, she took several science courses Before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in music in 1974, then adding a master’s degree in musical composition – A career as an opera singer was considered – in 1987. She returned to science to complete her doctorate in geology in 1998.

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The basis for this “ultimate” degree was an interest in how life forms in unpromising situations, such as thermal vents in the depths of the ocean floor. And thanks to one of those moments in the right place, at the right time, she says, she met the famous director James Cameron, who took the proceeds from films like “Titanic” and built a submerged research ship. The deep-sea footage that Cameron filmed for IMAX 3D, footage he later put to work on the sci-fi movie “Avatar,” allowed Conrad to study thermal vents in more detail than any researcher had seen thus far.

A year after she received her Ph.D., NASA—which was looking for scientists to work on the geological aspects of Curiosity—appointed her as A contractor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operated by the California Institute of Technology.

We are trying to understand whether the processes that allowed life on Earth to develop and thrive occurred on Mars. And if it does, we want to know if there is life — and if not, why not? I recently told an interviewer from Alumni magazine. It’s a question she answers as actively today as it was when she was first hired in 1999.

The first experiments I helped design weren’t chosen — as she explains, there is stiff competition among NASA researchers to get their equipment on a vehicle that is so small after all. However, it persisted. Conrad moved from her position at JPL in 2010 and has taken a full-time investigative role in the civil service. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland until 2017. As Deputy Principal Investigator for Sample Analysis at Mars, she has worked on: curiosity roaming Task and other projects as you refine the questions that you’ll explore later.

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Back to Soul – Back to Mars

It was only later in her life that Conrad turned to the study of religion. After experiencing an Episcopalianship on a windy day on a business trip to Antarctica, she joined the Episcopal Church in her youth and then attended Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She completed her MA in Divinity in 2017, just as the school was attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Soon, she took command of her diocese in Maryland.

When NASA was preparing the Mars Perseverance Rover mission around the same time, one of its experiments was chosen for inclusion. This device is a set of tools called SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Luminescence for Organics & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which, she said, “were not mature enough” to find a place in the missions. previous.

It aims to search for microbial life, using instruments such as a seismometer that can identify minerals and organic molecules on Mars’ surface – such as hydrogen and carbon, the building blocks of life on Earth. It also includes two high-resolution cameras.

“It’s all brought together a great team of people, and I’m just one person on that team,” she said.

However, the search for life on Mars is no longer a top priority for her.

“I want to make that very clear,” Conrad said. “My first job, and my first responsibility, is now a pastor of a church. What you see on Sunday is only a part of it. I have duties to my parishioners and their needs, and in the end people must come first, people are kinder than rocks.”

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However, she scored many hours in her part now part-time As for Mars matters, she has been working from her home office since the Covid-19 pandemic. The schedule is fast, sure to include two jobsوظيف It can be more than a little stressful.

Are you tired or not, there are lessons that you would like to pass while working as a priestess. Conrad particularly insisted on the sanctity of everything.

“Understanding this is just one of the tools people need to lead a dignified life, live in a community, and treat each other well. I think my other lesson is the virtue of walking gently, living a calmer and more thoughtful life.”

She adds that the pandemic presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on this and deepen her mission with those lessons in mind.

to the stars

When Konrad regrets something, they focus on her early life – for how long? The John Glenn Mercury spacecraft flew into the sky in 1962She was nine years old and wanted to be an astronaut above all else. Women were denied this path for decades and had to settle on the distinguished and diverse path they followed. Though brimming with honor and intellectual excitement, she maintained her communication.

Its realization expanded by adding a biblical role to its scientific role: the question of whether life could exist on other planets was turned into something like, “If God can create life here, then God can create–and God has created–” Live elsewhere? The answer to that question, Konrad said, is simple: “Of course.”

She added that this life may be microbial and simple and not aliens in our imagination. But it will be life, and it is this pursuit that keeps Conrad excited and busy non-stop.

But will you go to space? Don’t rule it out.

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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