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Launch Memories

Posted on August 12, 2021

A Team that Inspires

Nicky Fox

NASA Heliophysics Division Director and former Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist

NASA Headquarters

Serving as the project scientist for Parker Solar Probe, a mission that is so historic, so groundbreaking and so inspirational, is truly a career highlight. I have many wonderful memories but they all center on the high-performing team that not only cared for the mission, but also for each other.

I had just joined the team late in 2010 when my husband suddenly passed away. My life completely fell apart and I felt like I was never going to be able to carry on. It would have been easy to give up the mission and simplify my life, but instead, I found myself in this incredibly supportive work environment. Even though I had only been with the mission for a few weeks, the whole team gathered around and supported me. They helped in so many ways -- – offering to pick up my kids from daycare, to take my car to the shop, to get groceries – always asking what I needed to get through those first few months.

The team was not only caring, it was driven. Nothing about the Parker Solar Probe mission was easy – every aspect had extreme challenges, and every time the team worked together to tackle them. I was fortunate enough to spend the final weeks leading up to launch with the team at the Cape as it prepared our precious cargo for her trip to the Sun. These were some of the best weeks of my life; constant excitement, no matter what time of day (or night) or how many hours people had to work. What we were doing was important and everyone was happy to be part of it.

As if the team wasn’t awesome enough already, in 2017 we welcomed Dr. Eugene Parker to our family when NASA renamed the mission for him. This added another historical element as it was the first time NASA had ever named a mission for a living person. We had a wonderful celebration at the University of Chicago that made headlines all over the world. Gene also spoke at our mission science meeting at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and I had the honor of taking him into an APL clean room to introduce him to “his spacecraft” (and yes, I said “Parker meet Parker!”). Gene joined us at the launch site and accompanied me to the Amazon MARS conference after launch, where I got to talk about the technology, the first science results and history behind the mission.

It has been a real honor and privilege to get to know Gene and his family. I got to visit with them at their home for the mission’s first “birthday” and to share some of the early science results. Later this year, I hope to attend the Crafoord Symposium in Sweden with Gene, where he will receive the Crafoord prize for Astronomy – a very well deserved honor for a wonderful scientist!

My “Parker” family inspires me every day. People who work on this mission are highly skilled professionals who are dedicated to their work. When issues arise, they just deal with them – they come up with a plan and they implement it. There is nothing better than working as part of a high-performing team. The missions are fantastic. The technology is great. The science is awesome. But it's the relationships you make that stay with you for life.

Parker, meet Parker: During a 2017 tour at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, then Project Scientist Nicky Fox (center) points out features on Parker Solar Probe to the spacecraft’s namesake, Eugene Parker.

Nicky Fox and Eugene Parker watch Parker Solar Probe soar into the predawn Florida skies at Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 12, 2018.

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