SIRTF Profiles: Doris Daou
"One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind!"
For the first time in my life, silence reigned in my grandparents' large living room! We had all gathered to watch the great event. All of my grandparents' children, their wives and husbands and their children wanted to be together to witness this historical moment. And it was that unusual silence that told me of the gravity of the moment. And I saw, in black and white, men dressed in funny armors, flying like angels on some odd and far away desert.
I was only five years old, but I was excited and bewildered. So I squeezed in closer to my mother, like any child of my age would, hoping that the closeness alone would give me the answers that I needed. But still, I could not understand. All I knew was, it must be something important. So I whispered to mom: "Mammy, qu'est ce qui se passe (Mom, what is going on?)?." WHAT???!!!! My mind screamed! They are walking on the moon she said?! NO! Impossible, the moon is made out of cheese and a great big old man is guarding it. I think my mama is well confused. Next she is going to tell me some other unbelievable magical story about Santa Claus! Grown ups!!!! What do they know!
So I went to my room to look at the sky from my window. I wanted to see if these men were really on the moon. And there it was: the night sky! It seems that for the first time ever, I really saw the sky. It was a peaceful Mediterranean night, where all you can hear is the music of nature and all you can see is its dark beauty. The stars were all out that evening adding mystery to that beauty. And all I wanted to do was to gaze into that endless night sky. This pure beauty commanded respect, when my mom came to check on me, I spoke in whispers. Ever since, I always whispered when I looked at the night skies....
And that is how it all started for me! Ever since I could remember, the night sky had called to me. And I wanted to explore it, like my seafaring ancestors explored the sea.
So my dream took me through different worlds. I crossed a sea, an ocean, and three continents. And here I am, part of the Education and Public Outreach Group of the SIRTF Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, hoping to pass on this love of astronomy to another child who looks up at night wondering, "What is out there?" Is the moon really made of cheese? Is the old man still guarding it?
My journey started at the University of Montreal, where I completed my degree. I worked on determining the atmospheric parameters of a group of pulsating stars. During my research, a friend of mine got a job at the Space Telescope Science Institute. On a visit, she told me about the exciting work in space astronomy, and I wanted to join. So I went to Baltimore, Maryland and spent nine years working with many different groups and many exciting projects. It was a trip around the world of astronomy. It was an occasion of constant learning and meeting interesting and wonderful people. I worked in astrometry where we determined more accurate positions for stars. I was part of instrument groups that worked night and day to calibrate and get the best data an instrument could give. I worked on stars, on galaxies, on novae... And now, I am part of a new group with an exciting future. We have a lot of stories to tell and a grand new Universe to discover. And I cannot wait!
We launch SIRTF in the near future. My heart leaps thinking about it. One of my most exciting memories of my Space Telescope days was launch. I was THERE! And suddenly I was back in my grandparents' living room, in silence waiting to see the men on the moon. And when I look up to conjure the night sky...I still....