From the Copper Country to Cape Canaveral

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Tess McEnulty was 4. She was sitting at home with her parents watching TV. And a space shuttle lifted off into the sky.

This is her first memory. And it shaped the course of her life – first the planets covering her walls and lining her bookshelves, then her career.

“I’m not really sure why that was,” the Trimountain native said during an interview Tuesday. “Nobody else in my family is a scientist. For some reason I really got interested in it.”

Monday, McEnulty saw another launch. This time, it was from Merritt Island in Florida, where she is part of the team working on NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. McEnulty is a post-doctoral research scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, where MAVEN’s principal investigation is based.

With the mission, NASA is looking for clues on how Mars changed from a planet with an atmosphere and liquid water to the arid landscape we know now.

While working on her Ph.D., McEnulty got to do some testing on the Langmuir Probe and Waves instrument, which measures the density of temperature and electrons in the upper atmosphere, and also measures waves in the electric field. After graduating, she moved to CU-Boulder, where she works with the same instrument, monitoring its operations and analyzing data.

“There aren’t good measurements from previous missions of this, particularly the temperature,” she said. “It might completely change what we think we know about a lot of what’s going on in the Martian atmosphere.”

She still has fond memories of the Copper Country, from playing basketball at Jeffers High School to snowball fights.

Visiting her in Florida this week is her best friend from Jeffers, where McEnulty graduated from in 2002.

“The people there are like nowhere else,” she said. “Everyone’s friendly. Growing up in such a small area and going to Jeffers, I knew everybody.”

McEnulty spoke Tuesday while walking back to her car from the Kennedy Space Center. There’s an amazing energy and excitement for everyone involved with the project, McEnulty said.

“I’ve been sitting in meetings and hearing about the planning of the mission for six years now, maybe more, so it’s pretty amazing to come down here after seeing all the work that goes into it and seeing it successfully launched,” she said. “Ten months from now, it’ll be at Mars, and we’ll be able to do the science we’ve wanted to do all along.”