Kevin Peter Hand is an astrobiologist and a planetary scientist with a long list of credentials. Currently, he is working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Through his mind-boggling projects and extraordinary research work, the planetary astronomer has managed to build a reputation for himself. This is mainly because of his widely acknowledged research about the oceans of Europa, one of the many moons of Jupiter.
As an undergraduate at Dartmouth, Kevin studied psychology and physics. When questioned about his choice for studying psychology, he explained, “My interest in psychology was rooted in wondering about the brains of distant aliens. At the heart of it was a desire to understand how sensory perception influences the evolution of intelligence.” No wonder, he grew up to become one of the most accredited astrobiologists of the world!
He went on to earn a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, for his Ph.D. dissertation, he chose to study Europa’s putative ocean to find if this moon could harbor life.
In an interview, while talking about his fascination with finding life in space, Kevin said, “Growing up under the night sky in Vermont captivated my imagination. That’s where my fascination with the prospects of life elsewhere began!”
Kevin’s research covers a wide area of interest. From the deep, dark oceans of the outer solar system to the interactions of the electromagnetic field at the icy worlds, Kevin wants to know it all! Currently, at JPL, his job is to find a way to send a probe to Europa. This particular moon interests Kevin because, beneath the icy sheets, Europa is home to a 60-mile deep ocean. We can only wonder what that massive ocean holds, but Kevin is determined to find it out for himself.
The probe that will orbit Europa will take a long time to develop. Furthermore, it will need around 6 years to reach Jupiter, 2 years to spiral around the fascinating moon, and then 6 more years to travel back home! In Kevin’s own words, “Despite political and budgetary ups and downs, I’m optimistic that our mission to Europa will get to the launch pad sometime before 2050. This business is not for the faint hearted. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”
Kevin’s search and passion to study and research the forbidden environment took him from one side of the earth to the other. From the valleys of Antarctica to the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kevin has seen it all, looking for inspiration and testing equipment that will one day explore the oceans of Europa. He believes that his exploration of extreme environments on Earth is what provides him a lens for discovering potentially habitable worlds beyond Earth.
He firmly believes that life exists way beyond Earth and he has taken it upon himself to find it! In 2014, at NASA discussion panel, he went as far as predicting that extraterrestrial life will be found within the next 20 years!
Don’t miss out Kevin Hand talking at Catch the Next Wave conference taking place at Oceanology International Americas in February 2019.