By Mary O’KEEFE
A local man has taken on a new key position on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory executive council.
Dave Gallagher, who had lived in La Cañada and now is a Glendale resident, has been named associate director for Strategy, Technology and Formulation. Gallagher has been with JPL for 27 years and he was most recently the director and deputy director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology. With his new position, Gallagher will be looking toward the future and what path JPL will take in explorations.
“First of all, the way I see it is JPL is a unique national treasure, part of two national treasures – NASA and Caltech,” Gallagher said. “[It is] tremendously exciting setting the course for the future.”
Gallagher added the exploration will include not only space but also Earth science and, as JPL does presently, work with those in STEM (Science Technology Engineer and Mathematics) fields nationally and internationally.
“We have a very robust partnership through NASA with the Italian, Indian and European space agencies,” he said.
Looking forward 50 years, JPL will be continuing its mission of searching for life beyond Earth.
“Can you imagine discovering life on an exoplanet? It would be covered in every newspaper and media [outlet],” he said.
An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside the solar system. Life, Gallagher explained, means any form of life – not specifically human. But searching for life is not easy, despite having powerful new telescopes. Gallagher equated it to looking for a firefly next to a searchlight if the telescope was in Los Angeles and the firefly in Boston.
“We will be exploring icy worlds and hoping [to fly by] Europa and a lander a few years later,” he added.
The Europa mission would fly to Jupiter’s moon to see whether the icy conditions there could harbor conditions suitable for life. The spacecraft would gather data through a series of flybys and would launch in 2024. It would take 6.5 years to reach its destination.
With government elections approaching this year, the future of exploration is something that has not made the headlines in talking points by candidates, but administrations do affect the NASA exploration budget.
“We have tremendous support from NASA,” Gallagher said of NASA’s support for JPL. “And from the Hill.”
Gallagher pointed out that there are new discoveries thanks to space exploration and many times those discoveries are helpful on Earth, especially within the medical field.
JPL not only explores space but Earth as well.
“We really want JPL to be the gold standard in climate data,” he said.
Gallagher added JPL has instruments and satellites that are exploring all types of conditions on Earth from ice sheet thickness to the changing ocean depths. Information on climate helps in many areas including agriculture.
Another part of JPL’s future is the cultivation of employees.
“We have got an absolutely [wonderful] program with 500 to 700 students here every summer on internships. We get to expose them to what we do here and, whether they become a JPL employee or not, they become a fan for life of [JPL],” he said.
Gallagher himself is a fan of JPL and has worked on many projects throughout his years there including as project manager for the Space Interferometry Mission and he managed the Spitzer Space Telescope Project and Starlight Project.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to set the vision for the future,” he said of his new position. “I feel very honored and blessed.”