Born on October 27, 1972, to David and Joan Clarke, Neil grew up in a house that valued education and enjoyed science fiction. It wasn't a surprise to either of his parents when Neil developed a proficiency for mathematics at a young age and expressed interest in the space program in his adolescence. Neil devoured science fiction in all its forms, from film to television, comics to books, and when Star Trek: The Next Generation
appeared on the silver screen in the late 1980s, Neil's dream came into focus. He wanted to be part of the space program. He knew his limitations and knew he could never set foot in space during his lifetime, but he wanted to help make space travel a reality rather than a dream. His high school teachers pressed him to apply to the big name colleges rather than wade through community colleges, and Neil accepted admissions to Yale in 1990 after graduating with honors in high school. Again, his instructors pressed him to continue on with his studies and helped him find internships and summer jobs in Cape Canaveral and Houston with NASA. He had a knack for fixing things and spotting errors that could lead to various other problems, and he was perfectly content to be a cog in NASA's grand machine.
After earning a dual masters from MIT in Mechanical Engineering and Space Systems in 1996, Neil met Heather, dated her for two years, and married her in 1999 during a rare, but planned, summer off during his PhD research. She was an academic herself, and after they each earned their PhDs, they moved to Houston to settle down and potentially start a family. She taught at the University of Houston while he spent his days at Mission Control. From late 2002 - early 2007, Neil served as CAPCOM in Mission Control and performed other tasks in the Astronaut Office CAPCOM Branch in Houston, TX. The Columbia disaster of 2003 left the hearts and lives of everyone in his NASA family shattered, but they all had hope, and they continued to persevere.
In 2006, after years of trying for children, it was discovered that Heather had fertility issues that even science couldn't solve without a surrogate, Neil felt their marriage shift. They were both disappointed with themselves and each other for various reasons, and after a year and a half of counseling decided to separate. Their divorce finalized in the beginning of 2010, just three years after returning to the east coast. She moved back in with her parents in Rhode Island, leaving Neil who had never really lived by himself before, alone. It was an adjustment period, and it showed in his work, but if his life's passion ever told him anything, it was that one had to keep going. Progress was never made by staying still.
As space travel and launches decreased, Neil felt his calling to return to teaching. He secured a tenure-track position at Cornell University in 2007 and taught and researched there until 2015. He took a sabbatical from teaching to do his own research, refocus his goals, and do a little bit more of "fun work" (as he calls it). In 2011, Neil co-hosted with several others, season three of National Geographic's Known Universe
; and is an occasional guest on Neil deGrasse Tyson's podcast StarTalk
(Neil has also made a couple of appearances in the TV version of that podcast). During his sabbatical, he also worked on his next book, which he hopes will be finished by 2018. In the fall of 2016, he returned to teaching at Columbia University in New York City, where he's hoping to turn out the best and the brightest of the next wave of astrophysicists and engineers.
PUBLICATIONS, APPEARANCES & CONTRUBUTIONS
◇ "Dark Universe" exhibition at Hayden Planetarium/AMNH >> contributor
◇ Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk
>> contributor, guest
◇ National Geographic's Known Universe
, S3 >> contributor/co-host
◇ It's Just A Phase
, forthcoming humor memoir, 2018
◇ various contributions to scientific journals and major magazines, 1995-present
◇ Read Harder Challenge 2017