Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo’s Dream Job
Alicia is part of the team designing NASA satellites and rovers that have explored Mars since 2001. She ensures that these spacecraft are successfully able to orbit the planet or safely land on the surface—famously difficult tasks that NASA has compared to “throwing a dart at a moving target.”
Why her work is important
Mars spacecraft have been collecting more and more evidence that, in the past, the Red Planet may have been covered with water—such a discovery could mean that life might be possible elsewhere in our solar system.
Best part of the job
“When I see pictures or hear of new discoveries that scientists are making about Mars with data they received from the orbiters, landers, and rovers we help to put there, it makes me feel that what I do really makes a difference.”
Mars spacecraft she’s worked on
Alicia has had a role in designing the 2001 Odyssey orbiter, the 2003 Exploration rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), the 2005 Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the 2009 Science Laboratory Rover.
B.S. in physics, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska; M.S. in mechanical engineering, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Who she works for
Alicia is employed by NASA's Langley Research Center. She originally worked in Hampton, Virginia, where Langley is located. When her husband was transferred to Missouri for his work last year, Langley allowed Alicia to telework from St. Joseph, Missouri.
“I grew up on a cattle ranch in northeast Nebraska. Though I admired my parents and I loved living in the country, I knew from an early age that I did not want to follow in their footsteps.”
How she became interested in engineering
Alicia was 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 I did would not affect many people. I needed something more applicable to society. That's when I turned to engineering.”
“I enjoy traveling, cooking, and spending as much time as possible with my husband and two daughters."