Adriana Ocampo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1955 to Teresa and Victor Ocampo. She is most well known for her role as a planetary geologist and Science Program Manager with NASA. She was raised as a young child in Argentina until the age of 14, when her family moved to Pasadena, California. Upon landing in the United States, she reports that her first question was “Where’s NASA?” During high school, she enjoyed studying physics and calculus, and she got a summer job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where she analyzed images returned by the Viking spacecraft. The JPL is a research and development center that is funded by the United States government, and it serves as a NASA field center.
Ocampo began her college education in aerospace engineering at Pasadena City College, but she transferred to California State University and switched her major to geology. After graduating in 1983, she accepted a full-time position with the JPL as a researcher -- this moment began her lifelong career as a highly influential scientist and leader for NASA. She also earned her Master in Science degree in planetary geology from California State University and finished her Ph.D. at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
She has been instrumental as Program Executive of NASA’s New Frontiers Program at the JPL. Here, she takes the top goals of the planetary scientific community and explores those using spacecraft, furthering researchers’ understanding of the solar system. The JPL’s projects have included the Galileo mission, which investigates Jupiter and its moon (Europa); the Juno mission to Jupiter; the New Horizons mission to Pluto; and an asteroid sample retrieval. She also led collaborations with the European Space Agency’s Venus Express, and with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Venus Climate Orbiter mission.
Ocampo’s extensive resume of engineering and groundbreaking geological research has led to new discoveries. In her career, she also promotes space-science collaboration between other countries, using both English and Spanish.