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Spitzer Profile: Seppo Laine

Spitzer Staff Scientist/Spitzer Observer Support

Seppo Laine
Seppo Laine outside the Spitzer Science Center.

It is possible that my fascination with space started with the Apollo program. Seeing men walk on the moon when I was under ten years old probably planted the seeds in me. Later in my teens came Star Wars, reading science fiction books (Arthur C. Clarke being my personal favorite) and E.T. I also started to read books about astronomy. My big dream was, and still is, to become an astronaut and travel across the Universe. So when I was in Finnish high school I did not have any doubts about my future: I wanted to study astronomy.

Another line of fascination had grown in me as well. That was almost solely the influence of TV, I believe. Seeing the sporty cars, exotic desert sceneries, beautiful women, and tall skyscrapers made me fall in love with America. I also started to read about the USA, beginning with the encyclopedia. I remember that at one point I memorized the 50 largest cities in the USA (I cannot recite them by heart anymore). Such were my dreams, but reality can be something so much better than the dreams.

In 1983 I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in Florida as a Lions Club summer exchange student. The best six weeks of my life. Everything was new and fascinating to me. The sun shining directly overhead (and causing my chest to grill; I probably attained a third-degree burn), the big cars, palm trees, hamburger chains, smiling people... it was all like another reality to me. So at the end of my undergraduate studies in Finland I applied for a graduate student fellowship at three American universities. I was lucky to get an offer from... Florida!

I spent the next best time of my life, 6.5 years, in Florida, visiting Disney World probably 8-9 times, seeing Space Shuttle launches at Kennedy Space Center, even meeting a University of Florida alumnus astronaut. I observed with telescopes in California, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. I was a radio astronomer at the time, but my first love had always been infrared astronomy. I had heard about a future mission called SIRTF, and that really caught my imagination. Perhaps SIRTF could tell us finally something about other worlds, planets around stars, and even traces of life somewhere out there...

Fast forward ten years and here I am, a staff scientist at the Spitzer Science Center, formerly the SIRTF Science Center. I am living my dream again, and loving every day. Each day I open my incoming e-mail messages folder and always encounter a new challenge... there are no two days that are alike. I wish this mission could last a lifetime. But hopefully there will be others after this, and maybe one day I'll be able to join one of those odysseys to space myself.



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