Jon Rask

NASA scientist Jon Rask speaks at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck on farming in outer space on Nov. 14.

TOM STROMME, Tribune

As a child, NASA scientist Jon Rask loved to go exploring on his family's farm and ranch southwest of Mandan.  

"My whole interest in space exploration has everything to do with science and North Dakota's cold winters," said Rask during a phone interview last week. 

During his childhood Rask recalled looking up at the night sky and seeing the stars so clearly with his amateur telescopes, "The stars and planets and Milky Way were very visible and still are if you are able to get away from (the city) lights at night," Rask added. He also did star photography along with viewing Halley's Comet in 1986. 

The scientist at the Space Biosciences Research Branch at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., often comes home to North Dakota to enjoy his family, help out on the ranch and take part in activities such as hunting that he misses in California's Silicon Valley. 

 Rask recalls a pivotal moment that sparked his interest in science as a child. He was doing chores on the ranch and chopping water for cattle and seeing frogs that were frozen in the water come to life. "I was always amazed at how life in North Dakota could come back and revive itself after a really cold winter," Rask said. 

Rask received a bachelor's degree in biology from North Dakota State University in 1995 and after teaching high school science for eight years in Bismarck, he realized his passion for space exploration. 

Rask began implementing exobiology in his physics and biology classes. Soon his passion would lead him to quit teaching and attend graduate school at the University of North Dakota's space studies program. 

While in graduate school Rask discovered the NASA Ames Research and got an opportunity to visit the facility, got an interview, finished graduate school and was hired in 2001.

Today, Rask is research scientist and who wears different hats from laboratory research to proposal writing, directs a space flight science training program, as well as learning how the human body reacts to gravitational forces. 

"We're interested in how these reduced gravity environments effect life forms," Rask said.  

Last week Rask spoke at the North Dakota Heritage Center on “The Intersection of Space and Home: How Our Experience in North Dakota Shapes the Nation’s Space Program.” His talk explored frontier lifestyles such as farming, ranching, the prairie, cold winters and how the Bakken formations are influencing the nation’s space program.

"I'm a firm believer that North Dakotan's are uniquely suited to contribute to the space exploration effort because of their heritage and because of the environment that the live in. Everybody here knows what it's like to live and work in a cold, frozen environment, not everybody in the U.S. knows that," said Rask as he cited the similarities of the plant Mars to North Dakota temperatures and landscape.

Rask stresses the importance of offering programs to students who are interested in science especially in areas of the country like North Dakota where NASA programs are few, "It's incumbent upon us to to make it accessible to the public at large," he said.

Reach Tyana Johnson at 701-250-8250 or editor@mandan-news.com.

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