Space epiphany: What, during your studies, have you learned that has really excited you?
The single most exciting moment during my studies at Rice was the day that we derived matrix operations that can be used to solve optical systems in the Physics 201: Waves and Optics class. Call me a nerd, but physics is amazingly elegant!
Space dreams: Fifty years from now, where will we be? Inhabiting Mars?
Gosh, I hope so! I am also excited for further exploration of the outer planets (aren't we way overdue for a submarine Europa mission?) I would love to see orbiters around every planet, landers on the major moons of Jupiter and Saturn and probes designed to dive deep into the atmospheres of the gas giants. More than anything, I hope we continue to advance our technology for investigating exoplanets. I believe it is vital that we improve our spectroscopy techniques so that we can detect surface features and chemical compositions of more exoplanets, and someday be able to detect the signatures of extraterrestrial life.
Oh, and one more dream of mine: due to the thick atmosphere and low gravity, it is theoretically possible for humans in wing suits to fly on Saturn's moon Titan. Forget the Space Elevator, this is what I want for the future of space tourism!
Setting the story straight: Is there an element of sci-fi pop culture that gets it right? A movie, TV show, book?
I am a huge fan of books that use the science to drive their fiction, whether it's the harrowing survival tale of Mark Watney in “The Martian” using every available material to synthesize the resources he needs to survive on Mars, or the plot-driving focus on reaction mass in the inter-lunar ballistics of Robert Heinlein's “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” (You have to love a book that answers the age old question: how hard would it be to build a cannon that shoots things to the moon?) However, nothing quite captures the vast bizarreness of the universe for me better than Douglas Adams' classic “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.”