Eleni joined ESA in October 2018 to work on the Visual Monitoring Camera of Mars Express. She shares her experience from ESAC in Spain where she helps observe the red planet.
Hi Eleni, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Eleni, I am 23 years old, I was born and raised in the UK but am half British and half Greek. I have been passionate about space since a very young age so after initial studies in Geography, I studied for a Masters Degree in Planetary Science at UCL in London during which time I applied to be a YGT at ESA.
What do you as a YGT?
At ESA, I work for the Mars Express Mission in the Science Ground Segment Team at ESAC. My role specifically deals with the Visual Monitoring Camera instrument. This is an instrument on-board Mars Express which was originally designed to be an engineering camera and is now used as a scientific instrument.
How did that shift in use come about?
The VMC is a wide-angle camera, which means that we can take pictures of Mars with the entire planet, or large regions, in the shot. It is a relatively low-resolution camera but it allows us to collect scientific information and data for atmospheric observation. For example, in the past few days we have seen evidence of high-altitude clouds around Mars, which our science team is studying.
(If you are interested, you can see the published images on Flickr)
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
This changes throughout the month as we work through the planning cycle for Mars Express. Over the past couple of days, I have been adding limb observations for VMC, using ESA’s planning programme ‘MAPPS’. I find it really exciting to know that we plan these now, and then in about two months a camera orbiting around Mars will take these pictures! The rest of the month, I am working on data processing with our pipeline written in Python, and discussing things like calibration with our science colleagues at the UPV/EHU university in Bilbao. Most of my time right now is spent preparing datasets for ingestion into the Planetary Science Archive, so that VMC data can be more widely used by the community.
Do you have fun?
Definitely, the Mars Express team are really kind, enthusiastic and supportive, and I was given responsibilities quite quickly which I liked.
Have you always been passionate about space?
Definitely! Although my undergraduate degree was in geography I have always been passionate about space. Most people think that you have to study physics to work in the space sector, I don’t think that is true. I think it is useful to have a background in geography and/or planetary science and apply that to other areas.
From all the opportunities published, how did you choose the one you applied for?
I was really interested in Mars missions or future Human Exploration missions so my first action was to look for ‘Mars’ using the search tool! After I narrowed down my selection, I was really inspired by the opportunity related to the Mars Express Mission and happily my background was also better suited to this position.
Interestingly, during the Young Professional Event at ESA this year, another YGT told me “I almost applied for your position” and the funny thing was that I almost applied for her position! So it ended well that we both applied for the one that we eventually got!
What are your plans for next year?
I am now into an extension for a second year, so I am very excited to continue my mission with the Mars Express team! After this year, I hope to do a PhD (continuing with Mars science).
And we usually ask for one piece of advice to share with people who would like to apply. What would yours be?
Apply for the opportunity that you find the most interesting. Look carefully at the criteria, select one and show how it matches your profile and your interests.
And if you are selected for an interview, and at some point someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, explain how you would try to know. During my interview, my supervisor asked me something I didn’t know. It was a bit daunting, but I replied “ok, now I don’t know, but here is what I would do to find the answer” and that is the attitude they were looking for.
Learn more about the Young Graduate Trainee Programme at ESA
Opportunities are open until 15 December 2019 and are available in engineering, science, IT, natural/social science, business and administration services.
The Young Graduate Trainee programme offers a one-year experience at ESA and is a launch pad for many exciting opportunities in aerospace, research institutes or in international organisations such as ESA.
Apply now here!