NASA propulsion engineer Todd Barber will share his lab's 'colorful history'

BARBERAs a child, Todd Barber used to pore over his grandmother's back issues of National Geographic, taking in early images of Jupiter and Saturn from NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts.

"As soon as I saw that, I said, 'I want to go work there,'" he says.

Today, Barber is as enthusiastic about space travel as ever — he flies unmanned spacecraft missions as a senior propulsion engineer for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

"When we arrive at a new destination, nobody ever in the history of humanity has seen what this looks like before," he says. "That passion drives me to do my best engineering work to make the spacecraft successful to pull it off."

Barber, who is based in Pasadena, Calif., will visit Lake Oswego on Feb. 17 to highlight more than 50 years of propulsion experience at JPL in his discussion entitled "Putting the 'P' in JPL — The Past and Present of Propulsion at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory."

The discussion is scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. Friday at Lake Oswego City Hall, 380 A Ave.

"It's a colorful history," he says. "The history of the lab was quite different than I thought. ... The biggest shock was just that there were all these innovations, which rocket people take for granted, that happened right under our noses in the history of the lab."

Barber is currently a lead propulsion engineer on the Cassini mission to Saturn, and he recently began working on the Dawn mission, which is studying the planet's two largest main-belt asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. He has worked on the Mars Exploration Rover mission, the Deep Impact mission and the Mars Science Laboratory mission. He received NASA's Exceptional Achievement Award in 1996 for his work on the Galileo project, which studied Jupiter.

His entertaining lecture is one of 30 events happening throughout the month of February as part of the 11th annual citywide reading program Lake Oswego Reads. This year, the events are all based around Nathalia Holt's book "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars."

The book tells the true story of the women, called "human computers," who launched America into space, breaking the boundaries of both gender and science along the way.

In the 1940s and '50s, when the newly created Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, the company didn't turn to male college graduates. Instead, it recruited an elite group of young women who — with only pencil, paper and mathematical prowess — transformed rocket design, helped create the first American satellites and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

Based on extensive research and interviews with all living members of the team, Holt's book offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science. It looks not only at where the U.S. space program has been, but also into the far reaches of space where it is heading.

The "Rocket Girls" did "very tedious, tough, unsung work," Barber says, "all before the first U.S. satellite launched."

For more information on this and other Lake Oswego Reads events, see the story on Page B6 or visit

Contact Lake Oswego Review Reporter Kelsey O'Halloran at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Like many kids who grew up in the Cold War era, Ronald Tammen recalls casually diving under his desk during his school's "duck-and-cover" bomb drills.

"It was a routine part of life," he says. "I remember my family sitting down to dinner in Southeast Portland and having a discussion about what we would do if an atomic bomb went off in Portland (while) the family was dispersed."

Today, the Lake Oswego resident is a professor of political science and the former director of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. He'll share his experience and expertise on the Cold War era during a discussion planned for Monday, Feb. 20, in conjunction with Lake Oswego Reads.

The interactive discussion is scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. at Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego.

"I want to frame the era," he says. "I want to remind people about ... the atmosphere of the Cold War — what impact it had (and) the influence on people's lives."

For more information, visit

— Kelsey O'Halloran

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