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SPACE ROCKS: The Story of Planetary Geologist Adriana Ocampo

Adriana Ocampo now works at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. She led the JUNO mission to Jupiter and worked on New Horizons to Pluto.

ADRIANA OCAMPO was born in Colombia but grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1960s—the dawn of the Space Age—dreaming about flying to the moon.

As a young girl, she used her imagination, a talent for building things, and odds and ends from her mother's kitchen and father's electrical workshop to transform the rooftop of her townhouse into a "space center," complete with launch pad and a rocket ship. Her lunar colony model had domed habitats, a greenhouse, an oxygen lab, and a centipede-shaped moon rover.

Argentina, South America, was thousands of miles from a real space center but, at age 14, Adriana's dreams took a step closer to reality. Her family moved to Los Angeles, California, home to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the NASA center that hurls robotic spacecraft all over the solar system. While still a teen struggling to learn English, Adriana landed a job as a technical aide at JPL.

In 1976, as a 21-year-old college student, she joined JPL's Viking mission to Mars, which beamed back our very first images ever of the Red Planet's surface.

Adriana became fascinated by the strange, pitted rocks and eerie desert landscape. Written in the pits and other features of those rocks was the ancient history of another world. Adriana longed to "read" that history, and so she immediately switched from aerospace engineering (designing space technology) to planetary geology.

She quickly found a passion for impact craters—the scars left behind by crashing asteroids and comets. In a satellite image of Earth, she helped pinpoint the massive "Crater of Doom," Chicxulub (cheek-shoo-loob), carved by a space rock 65 million years ago. The global disaster preceded a mass extinction—most famously of the dinosaurs.

Adriana was soon hot on the trail of crater ejecta, material blown out of the ground by the impact. She led expeditions into Belize and southern Mexico that discovered towering walls of tortured rock 200 miles from the crater, blasted there in a matter of minutes by the force of impact.

At JPL, Adriana joined the Galileo mission to Jupiter and programmed the robot to take close-up images of Europa, Jupiter's pale, ice-coated moon. Underneath the moon's icy crust lurks a slushy ocean that, perhaps, has just the right conditions to harbor life!

Space Rocks: The Story of Planetary Geologist Adriana Ocampo is part of the Women's Adventures in Science series by Joseph Henry Press. It's available in library and paperback editions.


The 10-volume Women's Adventures in Science series should be on every middle and high school librarian’s "must buy" list.

The books are, first of all, beautiful. Each is filled with photographs, sidebars, glossaries, timelines, maps, and other graphics that... are so well designed and captivating that they create excitement and interest that draws readers into the book.

Once inside, the true power of the Women’s Adventures Series is revealed as the talented authors weave the very personal story of their journey from girl to scientist. The emphasis on adventure will appeal to a wider variety of young women than most biographies.

Fifth-grade students... loved looking at the photos of the scientists as girls and young women and reading about how their early interests, successes, and setbacks affected their choices in later life. Girls also strongly connected with the emotion in the stories.

When asked what the coolest thing about the book was, one student said, “It told how she felt about a lot of things"; another commented that the scientist and author “told it how it really was.”

This emotional content ranges from academic and professional achievements or failures, to family joys and sadness, and it does much to help girls see these scientists as both passionate professionals and daughters, wives, and mothers.

The girls in my room buzzed about the books from the moment they chose them, and the books passed from hand-to-hand as they were finished.....

After reading four of the books, one eighth grader wrote that they were “motivating and inspirational. They show that smart and successful women can be famous for their achievements in science and math, and that women are not only famous for being celebrities. These books inspire young women to work hard, go to college, and go into a career that you are passionate about.”

I couldn’t have said it any better!


This well written series is beautifully illustrated. . . . I started to skim through these fascinating volumes and ended up reading them from cover to cover.

What makes these biographies unique is the fact that they are written about modern-day working scientists who collaborated with the authors. This set is very user friendly and a welcome addition to a school library's collection. Recommended.


This series of books focuses on the careers and achievements of 10 women scientists. The goal of the series can be summed up in one sentence from the series preface: “The challenges of a scientific career are great but the rewards can be even greater.”

Each volume goes into the scientists' career achievements, research goals, new areas of study in the science, and background on how the scientist became interested in their study and how they motivate young scientists

The obvious use for these books are for students doing research on either specific areas of science or for those researching one of the women featured in the series. They could also be used, however, as motivation and inspiration to young women looking to go into the scientific field.

This set is recommended for middle and high school libraries.


The series takes a look at what is frequently perceived as the unfeminine world of science by coloring it in richly spun, completely approachable, and distinctly personal biographies. The books are written to tell how women’s careers develop from interests, are cultivated by choices made, and are shaped by the experiences encountered along the way. They tell of families, friends, relationships, and all of the other aspects of personal life that knit together to form every woman. Seldom is it possible to find a story that captures both aspects of the woman and the scientist in a single, readable way. Rare still is it to find it done in a compelling manner that would appeal to young, impressionable readers.

I believe this series would work well in library, guidance office, or in a classroom as a reference or leisurely read. It would also make an excellent addition to a literature unit on non-fiction, biographies, career education or women’s studies. . . . Each book was fresh, lively, and full of the personality of each talented scientist. The message in each book is clear. Science really can be like this.
—Terri Nostrand, Winter 2007 review

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