Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo
Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo
Aerospace engineer, NASA
Cosby, MO

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Close Up
  • What I Do
    To explain what I do, assume for a minute that you have developed an instrument to do something at Mars...now you need to get it there. I am part of a large team at NASA that can do the job. Lets say your instrument is a camera and you want to use to take pictures of the planet. We design the satellites to hold your camera and we put them in orbit around other planets like Mars. Or say your instrument requires soil samples on Mars. We find out how many samples you would need and where you would like to take them and we design a rover (mobile) or a lander (immobile) that will go where you want and take the samples you want.
  • Why Engineering?
    I grew up on a ranch in Nebraska, and though I admired my parents for their occupation and I loved living in the country, I knew that I did not want to follow in their foot steps. In school I focused on what I was good at. I was terrible at spelling and writing but good math and science.
  • School Days
    Creighton University, Omaha NE, Bachelors Degree in Physics The George Washington University, Washington DC; Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
  • My Day At Work
    I have worked on the 2001 Mars Odyssey and 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions and the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover missions. I am currently working on the Mars 2009 Science Laboratory Rover mission. I also participate in studies to determine the technologies that need to developed to enable humans to land on Mars.
  • Best Part
    The challenge. Every day there is a new one. We are solving problems that have never been solved before.
  • My Family
    Recently my husband was transferred from Virginia to Missouri and thanks to technology and NASA’s commitment to flexibility in the workplace, I am able to continue to work for NASA from my home. I live in Missouri with my husband and two daughters ages 1 and 3.
  • Want to be an Engineer?
    It takes a LOT of hard work, dedication and persistence but it pays off every time I see another new picture from Mars.
  • Additional Thoughts
    The challenge. Every day there is a new one. We are solving problems that have never been solved before.
Biography
Alicia is part of a team at NASA designing satellites and rovers to explore our solar system. Much of her work has focused on ensuring that spacecraft successfully orbit or safely land on the surface of Mars.—Most recently she was a member of the Entry, Descent and Landing Team that delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. Mars spacecraft have been collecting evidence that, in the past, the Red Planet was covered with water—such a discovery could mean that life might be possible elsewhere in our solar system. Alicia thinks the best part of her job is seeing pictures or hearing of new discoveries that scientists are making about Mars with data they received from the orbiters, landers, and rovers she helped to put there.  She says, "It makes me feel that what I do really makes a difference.” Alicia has had various roles in nearly all missions to Mars in the past decade including the 2001 Odyssey orbiter, the 2003 Exploration rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), the 2005 Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the 2011 Science Laboratory Rover, Curiosity.  She is employed by NASA's Langley Research Center.  (While she originally worked at the Center in Hampton, Virginia, when her husband was transferred, NASA allowed her to continue to telework from her home in Missouri.) Alicia grew up on a ranch in northeast Nebraska. Though she admired her parents occupation and loved living in the country, she knew at an early age that she did not want to follow in their footsteps. She became a physics major as an undergraduate. After a summer internship at a physics lab, she felt that beyond a small group of scientists, the work she did would not immediately impact people. She desired something more applicable to society. That's when she turned to engineering.  Alicia enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending as much time as possible with her husband and four children. 
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Education
Education B.S. in physics, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska; M.S. in mechanical engineering, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.