New Milford native learns how planets work as engineer for NASA


NEW MILFORD – Kyle Cloutier said she had fond memories of volunteering at the John J. McCarthy Observatory, an astronomical observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.

Cloutier’s love for space and science grew as she got older and now, at 28, she is a systems engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In this role, she is deeply involved in a variety of spacecraft and missions that further aid science.

Early interest

“I really liked math and science in high school,” said Cloutier, who lives in Los Angeles.

“My father (Bill Cloutier) was a volunteer at the McCarthy Observatory and we were there from the start of the construction process,” she said. “My father really influenced my interest in astronomy. He is still looking through a telescope.

While at the University of Maryland, she interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has been there ever since.

Her first mission was as an operator with the Opportunity rover on the Cassini spacecraft around Saturn.

“The Opportunity rover was one of the oldest rovers to land on Mars in 2003,” Cloutier said. “The rover was like a remote geologist examining all the rocks and trying to learn the story of what happened to Mars.”

As part of his job, Cloutier worked closely with engineers and scientists to plan what the rover would do the next day on Mars, for example, “Do they want to go see this rock? Do they want to use this instrument? ” she said.

At the same time, Cloutier was working on the Cassini mission, which was a spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

“I worked a lot with the scientists, talking about what they wanted the spacecraft to do, the instruments they wanted to use, and translating that as an engineer to operate the spacecraft as it rotated. around the planet, ”she said.

After these missions, she became involved in the Insight mission, which was a lander bound for Mars. Unlike a rover, a lander is stationary and has no wheels. In this capacity, she worked with the science team to develop how the mission would travel to Mars, land on Mars, and unfold. The objective of this mission was to discover the inner workings of Mars using seismology.

“This mission was sort of rewriting history books,” Cloutier said.

Current projects

Cloutier’s current project, the Psyche Mission, scheduled to launch in August 2022, is to learn how different planets can form.

Cloutier says she likes the wide variety of projects. “You are constantly exploring and discovering new things about our solar system and our planets,” she said. “Sharing with scientists and the rest of the world is great. “

She said she hopes to be involved in more missions in the future. She added that while Earth was being explored, “the solar system is still open.”

Robert Lambert, co-founder of the McCarthy Observatory, said Cloutier is an “extraordinary person with a great mind and a great work ethic and always eager to help in any way he can.”

Cloutier gave remote lectures from JPL in Pasadena to students of Schaghticoke High School, his alma mater. “We had assemblies where she taught all the sixth graders.”

He said that while in college, Cloutier initially applied for two positions at JPL – and got both.

“Neither of them would give up their request for her, so they split her in half. She was assigned to two of the most complex and important solar system exploration projects ever,” Lambert said. “She’s done wonders in both and she’s still assigned to projects of aplomb.”


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