Mars rover engineers discuss details of “Curiosity
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 03:11
On Nov. 1, Rice played host to some current NASA celebrities: Ravi Prakash and Bobak Ferdowsi (known to many as “Mohawk Guy”), two Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers who helped guide the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars in August. The lecture was sponsored by the Rice Space Institute and was the last in the Space Frontiers Lecture Series.
The Mars rover was launched in November 2011 and is set to explore the surface of Mars for at least two years, according to NASA.
During their lecture, Prakash, a JPL descent and landing engineer, and Ferdowsi, the activity lead and flight director of the “Curiosity” mission, gave the audience an overview of the Mars mission.
Prakash provided some additional facts of interest about the rover: The print of the rover’s wheels spells JPL in Morse code, the rover was part of the inspiration for the design of Pixar’s WALL-E robot, the rover is about the size of a car and there is only one signature on the rover — Clara Ma, the name of the 13-year-old girl who chose Curiosity for the rover’s moniker.
Ferdowsi said he is as excited about the mission now as he was when Curiosity first landed.
“I still find these images breathtaking,” Ferdowsi said as he showed the audience some photographs of Mars’ rocky terrain taken by the rover. “The rover’s wheel mark [on Mars] reminds me of seeing those first footprints on the moon. This is our robotic tribute.”
Duncan College freshman Eric Lee, who attended the lecture, also made the connection between Curiosity and the Apollo program of the 1960s and ’70s.
“At one point, they talked about how the Apollo landing inspired a generation,” Lee said. “I think Curiosity could be that inspiration for people now. It definitely sparked that for me.”
Ferdowsi and Prakash emphasized the sheer magnitude of the feat scientists have accomplished and explained that the mission was an international effort.
According to Ferdowsi, Spain, Russia, France, Canada and the European Space Agency all contributed to different components of the Curiosity rover.
Ferdowsi said 3,400 people at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory alone contributed to the project and he estimates that, overall, 7,000 people across the world aided the mission in some way.
“This is one of those missions you realize you’re part of something you could never do alone,” Ferdowsi said. “That’s what’s so cool about it. It puts it into perspective, how cool it is that you get to be a part of such a thing.”
Jones College junior Steven Rich agreed with Ferdowsi and said the collaboration on such a scale is what he finds most impressive.
“The coordination between so many people is amazing,” Rich said. “They said it would take one person 5,000 years to make the rover by themselves. That’s inspiring.”
Electrical engineering graduate student Himanshu Aggrawal, who was on the organizing committee for the engineers’ visit, attended the lecture and got to meet with the engineers in person that morning. He said meeting Prakash and Ferdowsi had encouraged him in his own studies.
“They are the people who inspire you to work for the next five years,” Aggrawal said. “You get so motivated. They are the ones who fuel you to graduate studies. It gives you the motivation for the field.”