From Miami Lakes to Mars: NASA engineer credits local schools with his success

Education By Megan Jacobo, Reporter Thursday, May 20, 2021

As a youngster who was raised in Miami Lakes, Joe Parrish never dreamed about working for NASA.

Sure, he was enthusiastic about space and science, but helping to advance the country’s exploration of distant planets didn’t cross his mind until he attended college.

And when the challenge arrived, Parrish was ready.

“Growing up in Miami Lakes, I had the benefits of a small town,” said Parrish, 57. “From the education I received, I felt that anything was possible.”

Parrish is the manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Parrish lives in that city with his wife, Michelle Parrish.

His team studies the Red Planet, and he participates in all uncrewed missions to it, which includes robotic rovers, orbiters and even the helicopter that recently flew in Mars’ atmosphere.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do,” Parrish said.

He remembered having “great teachers” in Miami Lakes, and attended what became Miami Lakes Middle School.

He called Joe Novis, who taught calculus at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High, one of his “most inspirational” teachers.

“I am a proud product of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools System,” he said.

Parrish attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned his undergraduate and Master of Science degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics.

During his freshman year of college, Parrish began researching space operations in a program sponsored by NASA and has spent most of his career with the government agency.

Parrish’s next project is to bring samples of the Mars terrain – rocks, sand and other matter – back to earth to be studied.

It’s something he says has never been done,
and the goal is to have a spacecraft built within this decade to accomplish that mission.

Parrish said he is excited for the future of space exploration.

“We’re in a wonderful time in history,” Parrish said. “We are able to be interested and fascinated by this other planet in the sky, and we have the ability to go explore and learn.”

What would Parrish say to kids in Miami Lakes, home to some accomplished robot builders?

“Be proactive,” he said. “The teachers we have in the school system are wonderful, they are looking for kids who are enthusiastic about learning.

“Tell them what you’re passionate about, and they will help you,” he said.

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