Ken Klaasen, '68, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Not many people spend their days contemplating the outer-reaches of space. Few resumes can boast 35 years of experience in solar system exploration, including involvement in missions to Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. But to Ken Klaasen, a 1968 physics grad, these extraordinary experiences are part of his everyday life.

Nothing about Ken’s job is simple—not even his title. When asked for his current job title, he responded, “I have several: Principal Engineer, science Co-Investigator, and Project Scientist.” Since 1973, Ken Klaasen has worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), contracted to NASA to do our nation's robotic solar system exploration missions. He designs, calibrates, and operates scientific imaging cameras and spectrometers on planetary exploration spacecraft.

While at Calvin, the math and physics courses Ken took were an essential building block for his career and for graduate school, which he completed in aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. Additionally, Ken says that, “the broad-based liberal arts education I received has been an asset in all areas of my life. Calvin also reinforced the importance of living all of life as a thank offering to God.”

Through working a variety of odd jobs to pay the bills while in college, Ken learned that hard work and commitment are essential to success in any career. Though he wasn’t able to, he encourages current students to get career-related experience in summer jobs or internships; and he specifically suggests that students in science, engineering or math to look into summer employment opportunities at JPL.

When asked what he most enjoys about his job, Ken responded, “The greatest thrill is seeing images of places and things no one has ever seen before. I get to explore the universe and be amazed at its vastness and complexity.” His life-long curiosity, sparked in part by learning from his dad’s scientific experiments, has led him to a fantastic career spending his days “considering the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and stars that He has set in place” (Psalm 8).

Written by Laurie Lemmen, posted August 2010