Will and Act Until Victory. - Paramahansa Yogananda

I was born, at home, in Hollywood, California. At 6 months of age my family and I moved to a remote area of Montana, near the Clark Fork River. At 4 we moved to Encinitas, California just one block away from the Pacific Ocean. A favorite childhood memory of mine is sitting around a fireplace in the evening while a family friend read Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit to my sister and me. As the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien was revealed to me I fell in love with stories and the telling of them.

One day, when I was 12 years old, my father came home and told us that we had one week to pack our bags, we were moving to St. Petersburg Russia. And that was it; we left Encinitas, 14 extremely large suitcases in tow, and made our way to Russia.

While in Russia, we spent a great deal of time visiting many historical sites and truly amazing places including The Hermitage, Catherine's Summer Palace, the Russian State Museum, St. Issac's Cathedral and the Battle Ship Aurora that fired the shot that signaled the start of the Russian Revolution. Because of it's many canals St. Petersburg was often called the Venice of the North and we loved to ride the riverboats exploring the sights of St. Petersburg from this vantage point. I remember being wide-eyed in awe surrounded by the opulent remnants of the Old Russian Empire. Huge marble columns towering overhead in cathedrals, entire rooms filled with objects gilded in gold or walls lined with amber all dared me to push my imagination.

It was not only the history and the sights we experienced that broadened my mind, but it was also the people.  The numerous characters that I encountered like foreign exchange students, ex-pats, Russian and Georgian 'business' people, diplomats and Russian government officials all had a large impact on me.

As the political situation in Russia became increasingly unstable, my father decided that it was time to leave and like that we were off to southern France. For a month we lived in the infamous mountaintop village of Rennes les Chateau.  We then moved a short distance away to the ancient Roman village of Rennes les Bains, a Roman Spa village where some of the old Roman hot water baths are still being used today. 

While in Rennes les Bains I spent my time learning to speak French (all be it Southern French), exploring more than a dozen castles (10th to 15th century) and learning of the incredible history of the area. The Visigoths, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, the Muslim occupation of that region, secret societies, the Free Masons, and so much more. The area was so rich in history, mysteries and conspiracies; I never tired of listening to the stories. I met several writers and eccentric researchers that always had a new spin to the history of the area. Even though I started writing in Russia much of the inspiration for my writing comes from seeing the remnants of the old Roman roads twisting their way through the deserted streets of nearly abandoned villages.

After 4 years in southern France I decided that it was time to return to the States. I moved back to Encinitas, got my G.E.D. and enrolled in a local community college.

It was while I was working for my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry that I became familiar with the Mars Society - a group of scientist researching habitat protocols for future Mars colonies. I was part of a crew that spent 4 months on Devon Island in the Canadian High Artic in isolation under Mars simulated conditions. Only the security personnel, designated to protect in the event of polar bear attacks, were allowed out of the habitat without a cumbersome spacesuit.  No polar bears on Mars that we know of but precautions needed to be taken nonetheless! 

It was through my association with the Mars Society that I became familiar with NASA. I was fortunate enough to meet and become friends with scientists from NASA Ames who encouraged me to further my education and inspired my interest in astrobiology.

After obtaining my bachelors in biochemistry I worked for the City of Houston for a while as a microbiologist. I was part of a team of scientist that tested various samples (including suspicious packages) for chemical and biohazardous material.

Deciding I wanted to further my education, I applied for and was accepted into a PhD program at the University of Nevada at Reno. I conducted my graduate work at the Desert Research Institute. During the four and a half years it took me to obtain my doctorate I conducted research in the field of biofuels. Part of the process was to investigate the lipid (fat) production in certain algae in order to more efficiently produce biofuels.

After obtaining my doctorate degree in Environmental Science I completed a two-year post doc at NASA’s Ames Research Center. I have been fortunate enough to work with brilliant scientists in many different areas of research. I have studied extremophiles, microorganisms that live in extreme environments such as extreme heat and cold conditions. My research has taken me to Iceland, Europe, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and many other places. I now work as a SETI researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center on life detection projects for future space exploration. It was during my doctorate studies and my post doc at NASA that I wrote, "The Past is Rising".

-Kathryn Bywaters