In recognition of this year’s parade theme, “To the Moon and Beyond: 50 Years of Exploring America’s Freedom,” the 2019 Festival of Balloons Committee announces the selection of space explorers and Co-Grand Marshals Jessica Samuels and Mark Swain.
2019 Festival of Balloons Co-Grand Marshal Jessica Samuels
As a proud resident of South Pasadena for over a decade, Jessica Samuels has also been a champion and pioneer for the continuing endeavors of the nation’s space program.
After assisting with development and rocket engine testing in her early career, she was inspired to combine the areas of both space and science and pursue a career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Over the past 18 years, Samuels has served in various spacecraft development, mission implementation, and Laboratory management roles. Her career has ranged from test, design, and operation of JPL’s robotic exploration of the surface of Mars, as well as leadership of the vast array of teams that make it all come together.
In addition to her professional successes, Samuels has spent the last several years supporting the community, where she lives with her husband, Bryan and two children, Phoebe, 5, and Amelia, 8, who both attend Arroyo Vista Elementary School.
Samuels volunteers on campus, lending her expertise to several different programs. She serves as a Girl Scout leader, and over the past four years has brought elements of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) background to the school, helping inspire the next generation of explorers.
Her favorite American was the country’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, inspired by his quote: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” She takes the message to heart in her daily life, as well as professionally as she strives to “dare mighty things” and inspire her friends, family, the community, and the country through aerospace engineering and science.
2019 Festival of Balloons Co-Grand Marshal Mark Swain
Dr. Mark Swain, who received his Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Rochester in 1996, is a principle scientist and supervisor for the Exoplanet Discovery and Science Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Swain is one of the pioneers of detecting molecules in exoplanet atmospheres using near infrared spectroscopy and he has extensive experience in infrared instrumentation. His current research interests include comparative exoplanetology and the characterization of potentially habitable worlds.
Married 29 years, Mark and Melanie have moved to South Pasadena three times, the first back in 1999, and currently make it their home.
Melanie works as a programmer for astrophysics databases at Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech. IPAC partners with The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the worldwide research community to advance exploration of the universe.
The couple has two children, a 17-year-old son, a senior at La Cañada High, and a 21-year-old daughter, a senior at UC Davis. Their son is a Life Scout, one step below Eagle, in the JPL scout troop, and he also participates in the FIRST Tech Challenge, which puts teams (up to 15 team members, grades 7-12) to the test designing, building, programming, and operating robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge with others.
Their daughter is an English major with a minor in Native American Studies and works as an intern for the JPL Documentation Services group during the summer months.
A family tradition is making pizza and waffles from scratch, “starting with grinding wheat to make the flour,” explained Swain, noting with confidence, “The fresh flour really makes a difference.”
And when the couple is not focused on aeronautics and aerospace, “Our family is fond of car camping vacations and visiting national parks,” explained Swain.