This panel is all about real spaceborne lasers with the experts who made it all happen. Explore this cutting-edge laser altimetry technology and science through past, present, and future NASA satellite missions that study Lunar dust, the surface of planets, and elevation of ice, land, water, and trees to study our own home planet Earth.

Learn how NASA scientists and engineers triumphed when people said ‘it couldn’t be done.’ Go behind the scenes with missions like the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), launched with its green lasers in 2018, a laser communications relay mission launching this year, lunar, planetary and Earth missions such as LRO, MOLA, MLA, LOLA, and International Space Station-based GEDI. Discover the Space Geodesy Project – an international laser ranging system to satellites from Earth-based stations.

Catch a glimpse of what the future holds for this technology including analogue waveforms to map planetary scale topography and beyond (Earth, Moon, Mars, asteroids, Europa, and more.)  Plus, watch what happens when scientists team up with art and design students, producing an animated short starring an anthropomorphic light photon.

Dr. Jim Garvin

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chief Scientist

Principal Investigator, DAVINCI mission to Venus

Dr. Garvin is a veteran Earth and planetary scientist within NASA in a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Dr. Garvin brings his experience with interdisciplinary science and instrumentation in helping to direct the scientific trajectory of the Center. Prior to coming to Goddard, Garvin served as the NASA Chief Scientist, advising three separate Administrators on issues ranging from science strategies associated with the Vision for Space Exploration to those involved in rebalancing the NASA science portfolio. In addition, Dr. Garvin served as the chief scientist for Mars exploration from 2000 until 2004 and spearheaded the development of the scientific strategy that led NASA to select such missions as the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Phoenix polar lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory. He received two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals for his work with the science behind the Mars Exploration Program.  He is also the recipient of two Presidential Rank Awards for his contributions to science at NASA.

Dr. Garvin’s scientific expertise spans several elements of Earth and Planetary sciences. He served as one of the founding fathers of the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) experiment and led the scientific investigation of impact cratering processes for Mars using MOLA topographic data. Garvin also served as the chief scientist (PI) on the two flights of the Shuttle Laser Altimeter (SLA) experiment on STS-72 and STS-85, from which the first measurements of tree heights from space were achieved. His scientific expertise includes the geology and geophysics of impact craters, the geomorphology of oceanic islands, and the geometric properties of sedimentary systems on Mars, Venus, and the Moon.

Dr. Jan McGarry

Lead for NASA’s Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging Systems

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Jan McGarry received her BA in Mathematics from Goucher College in 1974 and an MA in Applied Mathematics from the University of Maryland in 1983. Jan has worked in Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) and Laser Altimetry since she joined NASA in 1974, developing instrument control software, software simulators, mathematical algorithms, and data analysis for ground-based, space-based and airborne systems. She started spaceborne laser altimeter work in the 1980s as part of the Mars Observer Laser Altimeter (MOLA) acquisition and tracking algorithm team. She continued altimeter work as a key member of the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) and Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) algorithm teams, the Geoscience Laser Altimetry System (GLAS) software simulator team, and the GLAS flight science receiver algorithm team.  Jan also developed the algorithms and software for the Airborne Multikilohertz Microlaser Altimeter (Microaltimeter) as part of NASA’s Instrument Incubator Program.

Jan recently completed work on the ICESat-2/ATLAS Instrument’s Flight Science Receiver Algorithms, leading a team that developed the onboard algorithms to determine surface echoes from background noise.  The implementation of these algorithms was needed to dramatically reduce the telemetry data volume to a sustainable level.  ICESat-2 launched in 2018 and the mission is meeting or exceeding all of its challenging goals.

Jan started SLR work on the development of what is now the NASA legacy SLR systems.  Around 2006 she became responsible for the development and operation of the primary ground station that successfully performed 1-way laser ranging to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) for over 5 years.  Jan is currently leading the design and development work on the Space Geodesy Satellite Laser Ranging (SGSLR) systems.  These systems will become NASA’s next generation of very accurate, totally automated SLR stations, replacing the current NASA legacy SLR systems that are located around the world and have been operating since the 1980s.

Dr. Xiaoli Sun

Research Physical Scientist, Planetary Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Lab

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Xiaoli Sun is a Research Physical Scientist at the Planetary Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He was the Lead Engineer in the photodetector development and receiver performance analysis for various space lidar developed at NASA GSFC, including the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on the Mars Global Surveyor Mission and the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System on the ICESat Mission. He was the instrument scientist for the Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER mission, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, and the one-way Laser Ranging system on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. He led the first two-way laser ranging experiment between the MESSENGER spacecraft and Earth over 24 million km in 2005, and the first lunar laser communication experiments from Earth to LRO at lunar distance in 2012. Recently, he has been leading the research and application of HgCdTe avalanche photodiode arrays for future swath mapping lidar and spectroscopic infrared lidar at NASA GSFC. He received the B.S. degree from Taiyuan Institute of Technology, Taiyuan, China, in 1982, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, in 1985 and 1989, respectively.

Mr. Javier Ocasio-Perez

Integration & Test Manager

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Mars Sample Return (MSR) – Capture, Containment and Return System (CCRS)

Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD) 

Javier Ocasio-Perez is the mission integration & test (I&T) manager for the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD) Project. Javier’s responsibilities include the integration of both the LCRD flight payload and the ground segment as well as the testing and verification of functionality of the entire LCRD mission. It’s a very exciting job, as Javier gets to lead a large team of engineers from not just NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, but also across the country from multiple partner organizations, including the U.S. Air Force, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern, California, NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico and the Northrup Grumman Spacecraft provider at Dulles, Virginia. Getting that many people in sync and accomplishing LCRD I&T goals is challenging, but it is also very rewarding, especially working with such an amazing team like the one we have in LCRD. Javier is matrixed to the LCRD Project, and his home organization is the Engineering Technology Directorate (ETD), as part of the Flight Systems Integration & Test Branch.

Javier started working at NASA as a summer intern in 2007, and then did a student cooperative job (now Pathways Program) in 2008. Javier received a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus in 2009, and has been working full-time at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, since then. In addition to his work on LCRD, Javier is also the Integration & Test Manager for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) Capture Containment and Return System (CCRS), which will be returning the first Mars samples to earth in the next decade! Javier has worked on several flight projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Astro-H Mission, in collaboration with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), as well as collaborated on other NASA GSFC missions and projects proposal work. Javier is also the co-chair of the Hispanic Advisory Committee for Employees (HACE) at Goddard and an advocate for NASA’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity department not just for Hispanics but for all minorities on center.

Ms. Valerie Casasanto

Outreach Lead, ICESat-2 Mission,

UMBC and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Valerie Casasanto is the Outreach Lead for NASA’s ICESat-2 (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2) mission at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD. ICESat-2, was launched September 2018, and is currently taking precise height measurements of the Earth’s polar regions, land heights, tree heights and more using laser technology to track changes to melting glaciers and sea ice. 

From 2011-2015, Ms. Casasanto was PI for the NASA award, Beautiful Earth: Experiencing and Learning Science in a New and Engaging Way, to inspire and engage students and the general public in NASA Earth Science through music, visual arts, and indigenous perspectives. She has more than 20 years of experience in designing, and implementing earth and space science educational programs to diverse age groups in multicultural environments. She has an extensive history in microgravity experimentation on the Space Shuttle, sounding rockets, parabolic aircraft, and ISS. She developed the first commercial hands-on student microgravity experiments program on the Space Shuttle involving thousands of students (elementary-University) to inspire and engage them in STEM. She has managed and integrated student designed and PI science microgravity payloads on 15 space missions.

Event Timeslots (1)

Sunday, August 22
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Room 144AB - Science Fair