He maps another planet and writes poetry. Fred uses the images sent back to Earth by a robot we built and carted off to Mars to show us how we would get from one place to another if we were there. On that surface. And what it would look like. "It's a juxtaposition of Old and New World," I told him, "the calling of a mapmaker and the tools of the Modern Age."
I met Fred Calef on Twitter, of course. This is where I meet all sorts of interesting people. He is a planetary geologist on the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) project for NASA. If you know me very well, you know I'm fascinated by all things Science and Space related. The thing that drew Fred and I together in our conversations on Twitter was our love for poetry. When I mentioned I was coming to LA for a few of my interviews, he asked if I would be interested in a tour of JPL (NASA Jet Propulsion Lab) and I jumped at a chance. It was my first visit to a NASA site. It felt like home but it also felt like I had stepped onto the set of Syfy's Eureka. I'm accustomed to being able to hold my own in conversations on a variety of topics and being fairly well versed in them. It was obvious the people I was sharing the air with here were other level smart.
Here's what I found shocking. Each of these people have incredibly important things to do. They build things that visit other parts of our solar system and other planets. They send other humans into space.
They talk to stars.
But they all took time like Fred did to smile, wave, answer questions, and say this thing, "please take all the pictures you want." It didn't matter that their IQ outweighed mine by several pounds, they were genuine and kind.
As we sat next to each other at the sushi bar after the tour, Fred told me his story. He has had many opportunities to stay in higher level jobs, but he knew he wanted to get his PhD. He pursued it. "You have to ask for you what you want," he tells me, and talks about his first connection with the scientists at JPL before being done with his schooling.
I think about this trip and how I have asked for what I want in my interviews and even the Kickstarter; how that is all so true. If you are going to get to where you want to go, you have to be willing to ask for some crazy things. Instead of staying in a comfortable position for a long term career, Fred chose to finish his doctorate. Immediately, he was offered a job at JPL and shortly thereafter a position on the MSL team.
He told me of some of his future dreams and how he longed to remain behind the scenes. This is something that he has done for years. While in grad school in Alaska, he co-created a recycling program that the city desperately needed. But he did it just to solve the problem. He did it because it needed to be done. "I just want to make a difference in the world. To be a part of something bigger. It doesn't need to be for money or fame, just as long as it impacts something or someone," this is what he told me about his dreams. I think of all the scientists encouraging visitors to take pictures. It isn't about them as an individual, just like Fred doesn't long for recognition. They are saying, "look at what can be done if you will dream it. Look at what we as a community can accomplish together."
There is a wall at JPL with large letters on it that simply says, "Dare Mighty Things." I was taken with it. This part of why it's so easy to fall in love with the people of NASA and my #SpaceTweeps. As scientific as they all are, there is so much poetry and passion in their hearts. These words grab my insides and pour courage into my heart and I think of Fred. He could have stayed in any one of those jobs and made more money and had more acclaim. Instead he chose a harder path. One which doesn't necessarily guarantee him great notoriety in the now. He pursues these dreams anyway. Cartographer of worlds, he dares mighty things. This inspires me. Especially as I think of where he will go from here. And it leaves me with this question; what of you, dreamer, what mighty thing will you dare?