Leslie Tamppari


Project Scientist, Co-Investigator,
Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Leslie Tamppari

Leslie Tamppari graduated in 1990 from the University of Arizona, majoring in Applied Math. During her studies she had an internship with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. She worked as a programmer in a research group studying magnetic fields. In August, 1989, during her internship, JPL's Voyager spacecraft had its close flyby encounter of Neptune. During this encounter new moons were discovered, the surface of Neptune's moon Triton was seen for the first time, and details of the Neptune atmosphere were revealed. It was during this exciting experience that she discovered she wanted to make a career studying the planets.

After graduation from the U of A, Tamppari was hired back to JPL to work as an Investigation Scientist for the Photopolarimeter/Radiometer (PPR) Experiment aboard the Galileo spacecraft. Galileo was on its 7-year journey to the Jupiter system. It was a few years into this job that she returned to continue her education at University of California, Los Angeles where she received her PhD in Geophysics and Space Physics in 2000. Working on the PPR team, she began to conduct research, first on Venus and later on the Galilean satellites. She was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity by the team leader to work closely with the scientists interested in studying the Galilean satellites and to help plan the scientific experiements that the PPR conducted. Tamppari became interested in Jupiter's moon, Io, and settled on a dissertation topic studying Io's heat flow. As she learned, however, space is a risky business.

In October, 1995, just two months prior to Galileo's arrival at Jupiter and its only planned close flyby of Io, the spacecraft had serious tape recorder problems. These problems prevented Tamppari from getting a critical data set needed for her dissertation. Like many problems, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as she then turned her attention to Mars. She began studying water-ice clouds in the Mars atmosphere, using the Viking orbiter data set. She was able to detect and map the clouds over the course of a Mars year, which showed for the first time that Mars has nearly constant widespread cloud cover.

Tamppari's diverse background led her to jobs in project proposal development. She was the science lead for many future mission proposals and studies including those for Mars, Europa, and Titan. Her Mars experience and desire to be a part of a funded mission again led her back to the Mars Program, working as the deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. During this time, Phoenix PI, Peter Smith, was assembling his Scout mission proposal team. He called Tamppari and invited her to be a Co-Investigator for atmospheric studies, an opportunity for which she will always be grateful. Needless to say, she said yes, immediately. After the Phoenix team won the first round of proposals, Smith found he needed a project scientist and asked Tamppari to fill that role. Needless to say, she said yes, immediately.

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