The Planetary Society
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Charles Kohlhase  –  planetary mission designer
Click for larger image " Old school chums recall my lying in the cool night grass gazing at the stars when I was only 12."
How were you motivated to choose your particular field?
  My grandmother regularly told me adventure stories when I was very young, and I later read and relished many books, mostly science fiction, science fact, and adventure stories like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Reading is a marvelous way to be inspired by many different creative people. An uncle taught me how to build model airplanes (many that flew) and other neat things. During WWII, I ate lots of cereal to get at the enclosed paper airplanes which I eagerly assembled, then dreamed of flying. At age 11, I taught myself Boolean algebra and used it to design a small puzzle-solving machine. In high school, one inspirational teacher taught me to enjoy math and to reason. Stir in a tough father who knew everything except for math and science, and you can see why I chose physics in college and space exploration (the ultimate adventure) after graduation.

Sometimes, I found myself wishing to escape from regimented family life and the private military academy to which I had been sent, but the education outweighed the excessive discipline. Old school chums recall my lying in the cool night grass gazing at the stars when I was only 12. I was a dreamer with much curiosity and a vivid imagination. My father told me that I was making the "greatest mistake" of my life in later choosing science, but I'm happy that I found the courage to follow this dream anyway. The work was challenging, exciting, and historic, but it made the 40 years pass far too quickly. At all times, be honest with yourself.

  Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    On the question of vision and creativity, a solid education and a good imagination are essential, allowing one to think both within and outside of the customary box. The key is "rational imagination". Having built lots of scale models and done much photography, I also used visual–spatial skills to mentally "see" coordinate systems and the various spacecraft orbits around different planets. In my mind's eye, Earth usually appears about the size of a basketball. When designing missions to other planets, it is crucial that one understands how everything fits together.

Training in math (particularly probability theory and computer programming) helped me to logically see all outcomes for any problem and then pare them down to the few that really mattered. Nothing must be overlooked. It is akin to the job of an architect or an expedition leader. You establish the objectives and assumptions up front, then work the problem systematically to its conclusion. Long years and long days of schooling and working problems in space mission design allowed me to develop a strong and quick technical intuition. I almost always knew within minutes whether a colleague's work of months was correct or not. In hindsight, though, I wish that I had been less competitive and more human.

It was great fun to figure out the science and mission performance requirements to place on each spacecraft design, when to launch, how to perform accurate deep–space navigation to reach the destination world, and how to gather and return the scientific data to Earth. I was absolutely passionate about this work, often awaking at dawn with the answer to a problem from the day before. Leading the design of the Voyager Grand Tour mission was the happiest experience of my professional life. It offered tons of inspiration to a person already self-motivated. It forever locked in an attitude of "carpe diem" – seize the day!

Many years earlier, not long after I had begun work at JPL in 1959, I had the unforgettable experience of meeting Wernher von Braun, being awed by his intellect, and being moved by his unwavering purpose. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have passed before, and we owe them a great debt of thanks.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  Turning to the Martian village, several ideas are suggested. We must shuck this ludicrous volume of legal and tax baggage that stifles us here on Earth. Let's return to a few basic and simple laws that can be administered without lawyers. Take, for example, the ten commandments, or Asimov's three Laws of Robotics, or other simple conduct rules. It is easy to determine whether one of these principles is ever broken. It is imperative that we simplify how we function in a new community. We must expend considerable time and effort to design a remote village that can exist as an enjoyable place to call home. A strong systems designer should oversee and coordinate the effort, but that person should include many different creative thinkers and feelers on his or her team.

Artists and scientists must work together to create a unique and viable community. The interplay of light and color, of interesting positive and negative spaces, of spectacular vistas, and of music and other cultural cuisine are essential. The ability to access information and communicate with anyone elsewhere in the solar system is vital. The most versatile psychologists must be available to deal with emotional problems when they arise. A "holodeck" (as in Star Trek) is likely a necessity. These are some of the most important matters to consider.

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