It was great to see the excitement in the room at JPL when the Curiosity Rover sent its first signal that it was safely on the surface of Mars. A lot of hard work from NASA engineers and many contractors had finally paid off. When I was a senior at MIT in 1986 in the AeroAstro Department, my class was given an assignment by NASA to design a manned mission to Mars. We discussed the general outline of the program and decided on a three-phase mission. Phase I would be to send a vessel to Mars that would orbit the red planet and map the entire surface. Phase II would be to send a rover to Mars that would move around the surface and collect samples that would be returned to earth for further study. Phase III would be to send a crew to the planet. The class then split into teams to take on various parts of the mission, and I was selected to lead the “Rover” team. We designed a rover that looks very similar to Curiosity and addressed the issues regarding maneuverability, control, sensors, and instruments. It was a great project, and we all learned a lot. NASA got the benefit of seeing what the next generation of engineers could produce. I was excited to see the first successful Mars rover mission, Pathfinder, in 1997. We all hope Curiosity will continue to provide useful information to our scientists and engineers.
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I can say that much of my motivation to go into the aerospace field was fueled by the Apollo missions and, later, the Space Shuttle. I distinctly remember watching the TV as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and as the first Space Shuttle launched, then successfully landed a few days later. Many question the value of these missions; but to me, if they can excite a new generation of engineers and scientists, they are well worth the investment. I hope the success of Curiosity and what it will learn will inspire young people today to pursue careers in engineering.
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