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NASA Quest

Women Working on Mars

May 16, 2002

Animated video of Exploration Rover Mission to Mars

Stephanie speaking on screen

Stephanie: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Women Working on Mars Web cast. I’m Stephanie [Leevens] and for the next hour I’m going to be your host as we talk to women scientists and engineers and find out what they do to make this mission successful.

This Web cast is being offered through the joint efforts of the Mars Exploration Program, NASA Quest and the National Robotics Education program. First I’d like to extend a special welcome to some of our participants. NASA headquarters, the regional NASA centers, [Michelle Viotti] the Manager of the Mars Public Engagement Program, Marc Leon of the Learning Technologies and Robotics Project, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in particular Delores [Pruden], [Shelly McCunes], [Vina Leeman] and [Steve McLaine], also Raytheon [ITSS].

Before we get started, let’s talk a little bit about what the Mars Exploration Rover Mission is. In 2004, twin rovers are going to land on Mars where they will be studying the geology and the climate of the planet. And if you were tuned in earlier, you saw some of that animation.

Right now we’re going to show you a little bit more of some animation like that, that sort of simulates what this mission might look like.

Animated video of exploration of Mars

Stephanie: Now it takes lots of people to make a mission like this successful. And luckily today we’re going to meet many of the people that work to do that. We want to remind you that we can answer your questions live here during this Web cast if you just send them in, in the chat room. So we look forward to hearing from you.

Stephanie, Deborah, and Diana shown on screen

Now joining me today are two scientists that we’re going to talk to first. We have Deborah [Bass] and Diana Blaney. Thank you so much for being here. And they’re going to talk just a little bit about the science of the mission. So Deborah, would you start us off? Tell us about the science.

Deborah: Hi, I’m Deborah Bass and I want to tell you about the Mars Exploration Rovers. We call these rovers M-E-R, or MER, and you’ll here us referring to M-E-R or MER sometimes during this Web cast.

What we’re going to do is send two identical rovers to two different locations on Mars to discover some things about whether water existed in the past. We can do that, as you saw on the video, by looking at things like layers.

Deborah speaking on screen

Layers that must have been deposited in water or layers that also must be chemically bound up to water.

So there are things, there are chemical signatures that we can also identify as evidence of past water. What I do on MER is to -- I’m a science operations system engineer -- and what I’m trying to do is facilitate the science. I talk to the engineers who are developing the software as well as the hardware, and I work with them as well as working with the science team. And try to make sure that the most science possible we can get out of this mission.

Stephanie, Deborah, Diana on screen

Stephanie: That’s great. Thank you so much, Deborah. How about you, Diana? I know you’re also a scientist, but you do something a little bit different.

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: Yeah, rather-, I worry about one instrument on the rover. It’s called Mini-Test. And what it does is it tells you what the rocks are made out of. And I basically go and make sure that everything from Mini-Test works. I worry about the thermal environment, the calibration of the instrument.

At the end of all this, I’m going to be one of the people who get to operate the instrument. And having been there through the beginning, through the end, through the calibration, I’ll have a really good understanding of what’s going on.

The other thing I do is I answer questions about what’s going on with Mini-Test for the engineering team. It’s a big project and a lot of things interact and are very complex. And so I’m kind of a point of contact for some of the engineers. If they’ve got a question about how does Mini-Test work, what it’s going to do, things like that.

And in my free time I do real grounded, real science. Looking at Mars through telescopes.

Stephanie, Deborah, Diana on screen

Stephanie: That’s so great. That’s really interesting. Now I think we have some questions from our online chat room and Cathy [Bowmans] from the Robotics Education Project is fielding those for us. Thank you, Cathy. You’ll hear her voice. Why don’t you give us one. Are you guys ready? Okay.

Cathy: Sure. I’m glad everyone’s participating today. We have a question here from Cindy in [Hayworth] who says, what would you do if you’re sending a robot to an unfamiliar place? What kind of tests would you perform?

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: Well you try to learn as much about the place before you send it and then make some predictions about what you’re going to find. You test for what you expect and then you put error bars on it. So for instance, we know a lot about how geology works, and like so if we’re sending it to a place where there’s volcanoes, we’ll go to volcanoes on Earth and understand what’s going on.

We’d send them to lake beds. We look at those kinds of analogs to figure out where the environment we need to test. But since its unknown, we’re not going to really know everything.

Stephani, Deborah, Diana on screen

Cathy?: Okay, we’ve got another question coming from Rachel who’s in Mrs. Peterson’s fourth grade. She asks what, so how do you get the idea of making two Mars land rovers, and I would say more specifically, what’s the benefit of having two rovers?

Deborah speaking on screen

Deborah?: That’s a great question. One thing, by sending two rovers, we can go to two distinctly different places. We’re trying to find all about the history of Mars. And by going to different places, we get more information, rather than just going to one place, then we could only find out about one particular set of questions. This way we can, we sort of double up and we get more information.

Stephanie, Deborah, Diana on screen

Stephanie: Great, thank you Deborah and Diana, so much for being with us today and teaching us a little bit about the science of the mission. It was really excellent.

F: Thank you.

Stephanie: Now we’re going to go to some taped footage of some more women who work on the Mars Exploration Rover Project. And they’re going to tell you a little bit about what they do. So let’s see that.

Running taped video

Jennifer Harris speaking on screen

Video: My name is Jennifer Harris, and I am the Project System Engineer for MER. What that means is I’m the big picture person. I’m the person who works with NASA headquarters on things like how far the rover has to drive, how many different spacecraft we need to talk to when we’re on the surface. And things like that, to kind of make the big picture mission work.

Stephanie: Is this the life size?

Jennifer demonstrating rover

Jennifer: Yeah, this is the actual size. And you’d be amazed at how big the rover is. It sit in there on that middle pedal. It’s actually bigger than the pedal when it unfolds its front wheels. And that’s what we do here. We practice driving off the lander. You can see the [egress legs] that we build that actually unfold with the pedal. So that helps cover up some of the airbags and some of the other mechanisms and helps keep the wheels from getting caught as we drive off the lander.

Underneath here, you can see the airbags. And these, when we landed, were inflated, and the airbags deflate. And then there are motors and cords all through the airbags that retract. And so the airbags all get pulled up underneath the pedals, or towards the pedals because the lander looks like that when we’re doing it over there. And once the airbags get all rolled up, then the lander pedals open up. And then you can see the rover in there.

And so we landed Mars Pathfinder several years ago. Now we need to do more science. We need to do a longer mission. We need to send a bigger rover with more instruments on it.

Jennifer speaking on screen

And our development time is much less than what we had on Pathfinder. So everything’s kind of compressed. And we have to think about and design a lot of things and get things built and make sure they work and then get it launched in time to get to Mars.

And so it’s much more challenging than anything I’ve ever worked on, both from a technical point of view and a people point of view. There are so many people and communications is something that we really need to work on, in order to make something like this work.

Joy speaking on screen

Joy: Hi, I’m Joy Crisp. I’m the Mars Exploration Rover Project scientist. In my job I lead a science support team and I advise the project manager as to things that we can do or change, that will maximize the science return of the mission within the constraints of the project.

One of the best parts of the project for me is helping the spacecraft engineering team understand what we know about the atmosphere and surface of Mars so that they can design a spacecraft that will safely land on the surface.

Joy demonstrating map

This is a map showing the [Guthan] Crater landing site, one of our candidate sites. It shows you in color the elevation. So the blue here is showing you the low area in the crater, and the gray strips through here, is showing where we have high-resolution images. The ellipse here is showing where we have a 99% chance of landing if we target the center of the ellipse, here.

Animated video of rover

The Mars Exploration Rovers carry a lot of instruments in them and I’m watching out for the science of all of these. So there’s a wide range of science that’s going on and I’m watching out for all of that.

Helen speaking on screen

Helen: Hi, my name is Helen Mortensen. I work for MER. I’m the Cognizant Engineer for MER and MMIPL. MMIPL is Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory. What I do as a cognizant engineer is I manage a group of software developers who will be producing products that will be used in rover operations.

There are six cameras on the MER rover and four of them have stereo views. That means they have a left camera and a right camera associated with it. They have put those images on display here. These are from Mars Pathfinder, but these are examples of what the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory had collected during Mars Pathfinder.

Images from pan-cam camera on the MER mission

So this view here is the left view from a pan-cam camera that will also be flying on the MER mission. This is from the left camera, and this is from the right camera.

Helen speaking on camera

I think my favorite part of my job is being able to see the images, being one of the first people to see the images. The data comes down in numbers and we reconstruct it, and we’re one of the first facilities to be able to see that data.

And I think the second part is to be able to create a global view of the data that we receive. They’re called mosaics, but this is where we stitch the individual images together and produce a larger image.

Example of a mosaic

This is an example of one mosaic’s made of hundreds of images that have been stitched together. This is a picture of the Twin Peaks on Mars. Again this is a Mars Pathfinder image. But this is represented as what we’ll be doing on MER.

Helen speaking on screen

Digital imaging is important to the MER mission because it gives a representation of what is on Mars. It also allows us to understand the unknown, to understand what is out there that we haven’t seen yet.

Julie speaking on screen

Julie: My name’s Julie Townsend. I’m an Avionics Systems Engineer on the Mars Exploration Rover Project. Avionics is-, it delivers the electronics and the software that are used to control the spacecraft. So what you usually see is all of the hardware and all of the moving parts. And that’s what the mechanical engineers do. And what my job is, is to work on the electronics and the software that control all those [moving].

And then I also work on fault protection, which is probably the most interesting part of my job. It entails thinking about all the possible things that could go wrong on the spacecraft and how we can prepare for them. Sometimes to prevent them, and other times to have the spacecraft react to those problems and keep itself safe.

One of the systems that I work on fault protection for is the robotic arm on the spacecraft.

Animated video of rover

So that’s when we’re on the surface and the rover is moving around, and we want to examine some rocks, we have a sizeable arm that can fold out and there’s a bunch of instruments on the end of it. And I do some fault protection for these instruments in this arm.

And so things that could go wrong are say, say the arm bumped into something that it’s not supposed to hit on its way to the target that it’s trying to get to.

Julie speaking on screen

So what our fault protection would do is it would detect that it’s hit something it wasn’t supposed to hit and tell it to stop. And in that case, it would just stop and it would wait for the ground to come in and talk to the spacecraft, so that it could figure out what went wrong and carefully try to get out of the situation without doing any damage to the spacecraft.

So I have interest in this, in being an aerospace engineer when I was in the eighth grade, and at this summer program. And then that was kind of always my goal. And then when I was in college, I did another summer program and that was at Marshall Space Flight Center, and that was the summer that the Mars Pathfinder lander landed. And I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I was-, at the time I was a junior in college and I was trying to decide what it was that I was really interested in doing, now that I was really going to be an aerospace engineer. There’s so many different things that we can do. And I thought that working on a Mars rover had to be just about the coolest job in the world, and I could have-, thought that those people who worked on that Mars Pathfinder rover had absolutely the best job there could be.

And you know what? Now that I worked on one, I think that I was right. That this is just about the coolest job I could have.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer on screen

Stephanie: That was really some great footage. It’s so interesting, they have such interesting jobs. Diane and Deborah talked to us about some of the science of the mission and now I’m joined by two engineers, Shante Wright and Jennifer [Mindoc] who are going to tell us a little bit about the engineering of the mission.

And as you can see, I’m like hidden by this rover here. But Shante you’re going to talk a little bit about yourself and then a little about this rover.

Shante speaking on screen

Shante: Hi, my name is Shante Wright and I’m a [inaudible] Systems Engineer on the Mars Exploration Rover Project. My primary responsibilities will include tracking, service stats, heaters and temperature sensors throughout the spacecraft. Also I keep track of the thermal mass so we don’t get too heavy and we don’t have any launch vehicle issues.

Another thing that I do a lot of is heater design. Heater design is really important because we have to make sure that the actuators and other things on the spacecraft that require heat are able to stay warm enough to complete their individual tasks.

Now with regards to this item here in front of me, we were just talking about that, and that’s the rover. This is actually a life-sized picture of-, well actually a life-sized model of the MPF rover, the joiner.

Shante demonstrating rover

Now, when we talk about a spacecraft, and in this instance a rover, there are several subsystems that are involved with making this a reality. Now, one such subsystem is power. Now what you see here is the solar array. Now this solar array is responsible for providing power for the rover to function.

Now within this box that we generally refer to as the warm electronics box, we have the rover battery. Now the battery is also responsible for providing enough power for the rover to complete its daily tasks.

Now one item that you saw in the video was the Rock Abrasion Tool. Now that’s not actually shown here on [inaudible] rover. But that’s something that’s very important, and that’s part of the payload subsystem. Now, when we talk about cameras, cameras are so very important and they work in line with the mechanical aspect of this rover.

Now if you look here, we have a [rocker bogie] system. And this allows the rover to either go over rocks that are about 10.5 cm in height, or it can actually go around the rock. And that’s something that’s determined by the hazard cameras that are generally located in this area. And so that’s a really interesting way in which the cameras work with the mechanical aspects.

Now, not shown here on the rover electronics deck, but you did see them in the video, was a large mass. It’s a large mass, it’s a camera. And it’s a panoramic camera that gave views of the planet.

Now we generally refer to that camera as a pan-cam for short, we use a lot of acronyms, as I’m sure you’ll notice on our Web site. But it’s really great, and that the camera gives us all the different views of Mars and we’re able to get that information and look at it here on Earth.

Now one thing that we didn’t talk about telecom wise were the high-gain and low-gain antennas. Those are also things that you saw on the rover equipment deck. Now with regards to the actual subsystems here, there’s one that I think is particularly important and that I love the absolute most. And that’s thermal.

Thermal is responsible for making certain that everything within this warm electronics box stays at the operating temperature that is indeed required.

Stephanie and Shante shown on screen

Stephanie: I had a question for you Shante. Why is temperature so difficult on Mars? Why is that such a major consideration?

Shante: That’s a really good question. At night on Mars, it can get as low as minus 105 degrees C. And it is imperative that everything on the spacecraft is able to survive. Now there are some things that don’t actually have to work during that time, but they do actually have to survive during that time period so that they’re able to function for their daily operations the following day.

Now with regards to the subsystems that we discussed, there’s one subsystem that isn’t represented here, and that is propulsion. Now propulsion is really important in the mission, as we saw in the video, and actually getting it to where it’s going. We have what we call TCMs, which are Trajectory Correction Maneuvers, and this can be a mouthful, so that’s why we call them TCMs.

But they’re very important to getting the spacecraft in the right orientation so that it can continue on the entry descent landing and finally the landed phase operation of the mission. So that’s a very important subsystem. But it’s just not shown here. However, you should indeed stay tuned, because we will have a return sample mission later on. I’m not certain if that will be a 2007 or somewhere around the like. But it will be around the time frame when you guys are graduating from college and you’re actively involved in that effort.

So make sure that you stay tuned and get information about that. And propulsion will be key there in returning our sample back to Earth.

Stephanie: Now Shante, this is obviously not one of the Mars Exploration Rovers. This is Sojourner. Can you give us any idea of what’s the same and what’s different and how do they differ in size?

Shante: Wow, that’s a very good question. When we look at the subsystems, all the subsystems are indeed represented here. However, there are a lot more instruments on Mars Exploration Rover. Now what’s really interesting is, this rover is really tiny in comparison to what we’re actually going to send to Mars this time.

The rover that we’re sending to Mars is somewhere along the lines of just under 2000 kg in weight. And this one was way, way below that. Now with regards to the size, this rover is really small. The one we’re sending is going to be absolutely huge. As you saw in the video, it has various deployment mechanisms that will allow it to reach its actual size. But when it actually starts, it’s going to be small enough that it can fit on the base pedal of the lander.

Now what’s really neat here,

Stephanie: And then its legs kind of like spawn out like that, right?

Shante: Yeah it’s really cool.

Stephanie: Because I know Jennifer talked about that being quite interesting, that such a large piece of machinery can compact itself into such a small lander.

Shante: Yes. And that’s where mechanical is really important. Because all those deployment mechanisms, all those actuators or motors are really important in allowing this spacecraft to fit into that very small space. Now you notice here there aren’t a lot of instruments on this particular rover. For MER it’s filled with instruments.

A lot of the cameras were actually on the lander for NTF. And they’re actually on the rover in this instance. So that’s one of the primary differences, aside from just the tremendous difference in size.

Stephanie: Thank you so much, Shante. That was so great. Now we’re going to take a minute and talk with Jennifer Mindoc, who’s also an engineer. She does something a little bit different though. You do a lot of testing. Can you tell us about that a little bit?

Jennifer speaking on screen

Jennifer M: Sure. My name is Jennifer Mindoc and I’m an Avionics Systems Engineer, as you saw Julie in her video earlier talked a little bit about that. I have a couple pictures if you could show the first slide, please.

Slide: MER Avionics

MER Avionics are basically the electronics on the spacecraft and the software that controls the spacecraft’s function. So as you see, there’s a figure there, and that represents the electronics that are inside the spacecraft controlling what is going on. So I refer to it as the brains of the spacecraft.

Slide: MER Rover

Next slide, please. And here is a picture of the, our rover the MER rover. And that little arrow is pointing actually underneath that, it’s pointing to the solar arrays, but underneath the solar arrays, are where the warm electronics box actually is. And that’s the location that you don’t usually pay a lot of attention to, but it’s really kind of the mastermind behind what’s going on on the spacecraft.

Slide: TESTING IS IMPORTANT!

And then next slide, please. Here is a picture about a lot of what I spend my time doing, which is testing. And in the bottom corner is the integration and test Test Team, and the lab that we work in where we do so much of the important testing for the mission. And then in the upper corner is a picture of some practice tests where the rover is practicing actually crawling off the rover.

Jennifer M speaking on screen

But one thing that’s really important about the testing is that in the lab that I work in, is that this is the first place that the flight software and the hardware actually come together. So we see how they perform for the first time.

Before this, the design has taken place and the hardware has been built, the software team is working on coming up with their code and then we actually put them together for the first time in this lab. So it’s really exciting to see as we build, starting from zero where we have one, maybe one electronics card and build that up into a box of electronics cards and then make sure that they all work together. And then we’re using [a byte] software to test what we’re actually going to use on the mission.

So we just build it up piece by piece in order to make sure that little by little, everything works together and does everything as it should. And as the testing continues, we build up so that we have the system and we can test the different parts of the mission, the cruise phase while we’re getting to Mars, then the EDL phase while we’re actually going through the atmosphere, and then we can test things while we’re landed on the surface, and practice that.

So the important thing is that we’re practicing as much as possible to make sure that we’ve rehearsed enough and we know how the system performs.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer on screen

Stephanie: That’s great, Jennifer, Shante, thank you. I know we have a lot of questions from out chat room. Cathy’s giving me looks so let’s take some of those.

Cathy: We definitely have a lot of wonderful questions. One question is coming from Allison who’s in San Jose who wants to know a little bit about the education you did and whether it’s possible to get involved with research without having a Ph.D. So maybe Shante you could talk about that a little bit.

Shante speaking on screen

Shante: Yes it is indeed possible to get actively involved in research without a Ph.D. In fact, as a student can become very actively involved. We have lots of student programs throughout NASA that really encourage students to really get their hands in to the Mars dirt, and get a lot of research work done. Because we’re going to an environment that we’re not especially familiar with. And it’s really important that we do a lot of research and that research is performed by people at all types of education levels, even our students that come in for the summer.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer on screen

Cathy: Great. I’ve got a question for Jennifer. It comes from Angelica in Miss Peterson’s Fourth Grade. She wants to know that when you launch the Mars rovers, will you launch them at the same time?

Jennifer speaking on screen

JenniferM: No, actually we’re going to be launching one in May of next year and then launching the following one in June of next year. And that way we can get to different spots on Mars as the scientists have talked about earlier, we like to go to different locations. So that really allows us to get to the different places on Mars.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer shown on screen

Cathy: Great. I’ve got another question. Chris from Hayworth wants to know how the rover’s engine will be powered. Shante, could you talk about that?

Shante speaking on screen

Shante: Yes, that’s really cool. I especially like that type of thing. That’s actually propulsion. Now with regards to the engines, we have a main engine and we have, actually we have, we actually just have [fluster clusters] on this mission since I’m thinking about something else.

We have two large propeller tanks and we have [fluster clusters]. Now when we talk about a main engine, it’s not actually on the spacecraft per se, it’s actually on the launch vehicle. The launch vehicle will actually get us into our initial approach and then we’ll have flusters that help us with the orbit trajectory changes, so that we can get on target to where we actually want to go.

Back to Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer

Cathy: Great. And I’ve got another question from Elizabeth who’s a sixth grader in Apple Valley, California. She wants to know a little more about the kind of information that NASA will be collecting from MARS. Jennifer?

Jennifer speaking on screen

JenniferM: Oh gosh, all kinds of information. We’ll be taking science data from all of the science instruments that we’ll be using and so the scientists will be able to analyze the geology and the climate of Mars. We’ll also be, at the same time, gathering engineering data. So we’ll be able to learn about how well the science instruments are performing and also how well our rover is performing itself.

So we’ll be measuring how our motors are performing, how our wheels are working and so basically science and engineering will both be gathering a lot of data, so we can actually figure out as much about Mars and our own system that we can.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer on screen

Cathy: That’s great. I’ve got another great question from Ellen in Westover who wants to know if like working at NASA as a woman, she wonders what barriers there are to becoming an engineer or what the good parts are and what it’s like to get a job at NASA. How does being a woman help you or hold you back? Shante:

Shante speaking on screen

Shante: Well that is indeed a great question. Actually I don’t see it at all as a hindrance. I really don’t see it at all as a problem. You just really have to be very motivated at anything you do, whether it’s being an engineer or being a business person. You really have to be motivated, and you can’t let gender stand in your way, even if someone chooses to make it an issue. You make it a non-issue and you move towards achieving your goals.

I absolutely love working at NASA. I decided I wanted to work for JPL NASA when I was in fifth grade, and I just put myself on the path to make that happen. And I really don’t see any barriers because I see a lot of women, like the women that were presented in the beginning of the video, and throughout the video, that have attained just incredible things. And I know that I can do that, because I see women ahead of me that have already done it.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer on screen

Stephanie: Just like you guys may be to some of our young women in schools who are interested in science and engineering. Jennifer, why don’t you answer that too? How do you feel about

Jennifer speaking on screen

JenniferM: Sure. I’ve never felt like there was really every been an issue with me being a woman working at NASA. It’s always just been you showing that you can do the things that you’re asked to do, and you work as hard as you can, and you show your abilities. And that’s really the most important thing that matters, as long as you’re just showing that you’re dedicated to what you’re doing and you try as hard as you can. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man.

And I’ve never felt like there was any difference in assignments that I’ve received or any tasks, just because I’m a female. It’s always just proving your abilities, basically and just working as hard as you can. And it’s an absolutely fabulous place to work and it’s amazing the things that go on within NASA and at JPL.

Stephanie, Shante, Jennifer shown on screen

Stephanie: Now as far as science and engineering go, we’re going to, in a minute, talk to a-, or see some tape of some women who are not scientists or engineers. But before we get into that, I know you guys have some very clear advice for young women or men who are interested in pursuing careers in science, engineering, technology, things like that. Could you just tell us what that is right now?

Shante speaking on screen

Shante: Well, I think it is really, really important to get actively involved in math and science in the classroom and outside the classroom. It’s really important to get yourself in a position to take the high-level math courses when you get into high school and you get into college.

Now when you’re in junior high, you may think it’s not important to take the algebra class or the geometry class if it’s offered, when in fact it is very important. Because when you are in junior high, you are taking the initial steps that are going to lead you to the career of your choice. If you choose not to take the challenging math classes, then you’re choosing to put yourself in a position to not have the career that you want, especially if it’s in math and science.

I know most of the women and men that are in engineering, took these classes very early on and it really helped them when they got to the higher level math in college. And so it is really important to take as many math and science classes as you can at a very early age.

Stephanie speaking on screen

Stephanie: Thanks, Shante. Okay, well this has been so interesting. I really appreciate you teaching us a little bit more about the engineering of the mission. But now, we’re going to take a minute to hear about some women who perform jobs that aren’t related to science or engineering, but they’re still very important to making the mission with the Mars Exploration Rover mission successful. So let’s hear about them.

Taped video of women who work on Mars Exploration Rover

Cathy speaking on screen


Cathy B: My name is Cathy Born. I’m a machinist here at JPL. I’ve been making parts for the rover for about six months now.

Video of rover landing on Mars

The most interesting thing and the most simplest probably was, this is a sheer pin it’s called. The rover, as it comes down into Mars and breaks through the atmosphere, it will be traveling at a pretty good rate of speed. And depending on the angle that it lands, this pin, if it lands to where this is the supporting thing between the ground and the rover, this can have up to 5000 pounds of pressure put on it.

It’s a good feeling knowing that what I made could be what saves it. But we’ve got one in 360 chances of it landing on this particular pin. So, it’s pretty incredible though. I sometimes I get a blueprint and there’ll be a dimension missing, and I can’t just pull one out of the side and assume. That’s not our way here. We’ve got to know.

Laura speaking on screen

Laura: My name is Laura Berwin, I’m a graphic artist, and I work for JPL, and I create art that supports the Mars missions. I think the graphic art aspect of these missions is important because the Web is the medium that most people are finding out about these missions on, and they’re going to these sites to get information. And when they go onto these sites, the Web-, the sites need to look pretty and they need to look exciting, so that people know how exciting these missions are and how much information that we can get from these missions.

One thing that I’m working on right now is Imagine Mars. Imagine Mars is a Web site that will be like a portal or a resource for kids and teachers to put in their artwork or music or projects to give people a better idea of what they think that Mars will be like in the future, and what a habitat would be like.

Video showing Web site and Laura working with it

And I just came up with a design for one of the Martian habitats, and this one we decided to put in a couple of crazy blimps and so houses that we’re going to live in may, in the mountains in Mars and some VW-type cars that would drive around the surface there.

What’s challenging about this job is that I’m not a scientist and I think I tend to go towards making things look pretty and fun and wanted to make things look colorful and kind of outrageous. I must remember that we have to keep things like scientifically accurate.

We designed these buttons to go into the different sections here: Extreme Planet, Follow the Water, [inaudible]. They’re supposed to be visually appealing but at the same time to give you an idea of where you’re going in the site and something about each section.

Well I find space exploration really interesting and I like learning about this stuff when I come to work. And I feel like my job is important and that it’s meaningful.

Connie speaking on screen

Connie: My name is Connie Gennaro and I’m the Outreach Coordinator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission. I work here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And an Outreach Coordinator does all kinds of different things. I set up visits for the public, for schools, for kids coming. I get to meet a lot of interesting people here.

Connie demonstrating rover

This little guy was used by the Mars Pathfinder mission to decide whether they needed six or eight wheels to go. So they would test this one and they found out that if it has eight wheels, that they were actually able to do the mission with six wheels. So this is a real prototype for the Sojourner mission.

Well, one of my very favorite things to do is to roll the rover over children, and having them actually experience a rover real close up and personal. And they walk away saying that they actually touched a rover and that it rolled over them and it’s just a thrill for them and it’s more of a thrill for me to be able to reach them in a real tangible way.

So I think my job is important to the MER mission because I’m the one who brings the knowledge of the mission out to the public. And so kids in school and just the regular folk out there, actually get to learn about what we’re doing.

I am first-generation American. My parents were Mexican and actually I was the first generation to actually go to school. And so this was a real big jump, I think, for me. And being from a very, very traditional Mexican-American home where girls usually maybe finished grade school, go finish the high school, but they’re expected to get married. They’re really not pushed to go to school or university. And so it was really breaking a mold in my family.

I just really want to tell everybody out there that you guys need to pursue your dream. Pursue everything. You’re your own limit. And we are in a great country that if you want to pursue something, it doesn’t matter what your background is, you can do it. You can do it.

Stephanie speaking on screen

Stephanie: Wow, what powerful words. Thank you so much for watching that and thanks again to the women who helped to make these videos happen. Because you in our audience have so many questions about Mars, we’ve brought back Diana [Blaney] who’s going to answer some more questions for us. Cathy?

Stephanie and Diana shown on screen

Cathy: We do have some wonderful questions. Annie from Ellen’s class in Westover, CT, asks how does a robot deal with weather conditions on Mars such as sandstorms?

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: Well, the atmosphere on Mars is a lot thinner than it is on Earth. And how it does it, is it tries to-, I’m sorry. It tries to-, it basically designs to work around the sandstorm. We know how much that sand is going to be in the atmosphere, it’s called dust. It falls out on a daily basis. So the power system that you were talking about that was designed with the solar panel, has to be designed big enough that the sand comes in.

Joy mentioned earlier that we try to understand what’s going on Mars. Sandstorms is one of those things we understand, so we try to send the rover to Mars, places and time when we don’t think there’s going to be sandstorms. So that’s-, we try to plan and we try to design to counter, survive whatever we encounter.

Stephanie and Diana shown on screen

Cathy?: Great. We’ve got another question from Tyler who’s a kindergartner at Apple Valley, CA. And he wonders how far away is Mars?

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: Mars is 1.5 astronomical units from the Sun. And it’s basically the distance, the Earth is 1 astronomical unit. So, and then Mars is 1.5 times. So if you kind of thought about it and took three steps, took two steps for the Earth away from a point, and one step more, that would be where Mars is.

That makes Mars a lot colder, which is why there’s all this concern about the power, the heat power and the thermal system. Mars is very, very cold at night and so you don’t want the electronics and things like that to be freezing.

Stephanie and Diana on screen

Stephanie: And also if you think about it, it’s going to take about seven months for the rovers to get to Mars traveling at extremely high speeds.

Diana: Right. So super, super, super far away. An astronomical unit is 96 million miles.

Stephanie: It’s hard to even imagine.

Diana: Yeah.

Stephanie: Yeah. Do we have any more?

Cathy: I think we do have actually one more question. This one’s coming from Gerald Burns, a sixth grader in Apple Valley, CA. And he is asking what’s it like to be a NASA scientist studying Mars?

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: It’s fun. It’s fun. You get to do a lot of different things. This is a real exciting time in Mars science, because we have so many Mars missions. What we thought about Mars five years ago, and what we think about Mars is totally different because of Mars Global Surveyor. We’ve got new pictures, we’ve got new data, and every two years now, we’re launching a mission. And it’s kind of a real experience of discovery.

These are going to be the first time we’re going to land on the surface of Mars with really sophisticated scientific instruments. And we’re going to learn so much that we don’t know. This is the time. It’s so exciting.

Stephanie and Diana speaking on screen

Stephanie: Yeah, I’m so excited to be alive now and get to find out this stuff. I think we have one more.

Diana: Okay.

Cathy: We’ve got a great question from Laurie in Hayworth who asks about the kinds of pictures that the rover’s going to collect.

Diana speaking on screen

Diana: The rover is going to take color pictures in different filters, they’re called wavelengths. And we can use that to help figure out. In addition, it’s going to take something called spectra, which are in wavelengths that the eye can’t see, that tells you how things are made up. So eventually we’re going to be able to make maps of what the composition of the surface is and compare that.

Helen had mentioned that there’s two cameras. There’s a left eye and right eye. They act like your eyes do so you can get depth. So we’ll be able to measure how far things are apart and the stereo separation and the different sizes of rocks. And so because the rover moves every day, every day it’s going to see a different place, and we’ve got to take really good pictures so we can figure out how to get from point A to point B through the rocks, over the hills, everything.

Stephanie and Diana on screen

Stephanie: Thank you so much for coming in here and answering some more questions for us. And for any of you that asked questions that were not answered, please know that we will answer them online in the next few days and you can go back to the Quest site and find your question and it will have an answer to it. And you might be answering some of those too, so that’ll will be fun.

Diana: Yeah, that would be fun.

Stephanie: Now, all of the women we’ve seen today were at some point in their lives students. And we’re lucky enough to have a student, Daisy Uribe, who is interested in science and engineering and actually was part of the [Lapis] program. And she’s going to tell us a little bit about what Lapis is.

Daisy speaking on screen

Daisy: Well basically the Lapis program is for high school students who are interested in Mars exploration. It’s 16 students out of, well in the United States and what they do is they test the Mars prototype [Fido]. Right now the program or the name of the program has been modified and it’s Athena Student Intern.

So the program basically what we do is what scientists do, just students do it, instead of it being in Mars, we do it at a different test site. But we do the same exact thing.

 

 

Stephanie: And what was that like? Did you really feel like a scientist?

Stephanie, Diana, and Daisy shown on screen

Daisy: Actually, yes I did. I felt like such a scientist because you are actually working with scientists and you’re doing the work that they do.

Daisy speaking on screen

You’re having big meetings and you’re having these breakdown [commutes] to very-, it’s very difficult but it’s a really great experience and it is a lot of fun.

Stephanie, Diana, and Daisy shown on screen

Stephanie: And I remember you mentioned before when we were chatting that you had problems with temperature as well when you were doing your mission. But they were different than the problems on Mars.

Daisy speaking on screen

Daisy: Well you see Mars, as is the Mojave Desert, which is where our test site was, and it was very, very hot. So the problem that we had with the Fido was that when if we used a motor too much from one of the wheels that we needed to dig a trench, they would explode, or it would just go off, and that’s it. Our machine was, it would have failed.

So what we had to do is we had to take a third of whatever it was that we were going to do, which was 300 revolutions, and we were only able to take a third of those, which is 133, to do. And in order for us to dig that trench. So we only got a third of what, of those 300 revolutions, and it, we still dug a pretty big trench. It wasn’t what we wanted, but if we wouldn’t have taken a third of that, then our mission wouldn’t have been successful.

Stephanie, Diana, and Daisy shown on screen

Stephanie: So you solved a real science problem

Daisy: Yes.

Stephanie: ...with your mission and that’s excellent. So are there other ways that students could get involved besides the Athena Student Intern Program?

Daisy speaking on screen

Daisy: Yes, there are two other ways. You can do the-, it’s called the Mars Student Imaging project, which it’s fifth graders to 12th graders. And what they do is they, like real scientists, with scientists they image sites on Mars.

tephanie: That’s with the Odyssey mission cameras? Right.

Daisy: Yes. And the other program is the Imagine Mars, which is for younger students who want to also do Mars exploration, and what they do is they kind of go out in their community and they get involved with Mars and they kind of use art and technologies to explore Mars.

Stephanie, Diana, and Daisy on screen

Stephanie: Yeah, and I can talk just a little bit more about the Imagine Mars project. It’s more for younger children, and also I just want to point out that we’re talking about three ways you can get involved in Mars exploration or any kinds of NASA programs.

Stephanie speaking on screen

But there’s lots more than just three ways. And you can find some of them on the Web site, on the Quest Web site, are links to the projects we’re talking about today and also you can go onto any of the NASA sites to find out more about education programs.

But just for a minute, about the Imagine Mars program, that’s something for K through probably sixth grade and it’s a way for them to work with their own community, see what things are good, what things are bad and then decide what kind of a community they’d like to build on Mars. And they think a lot about the humanities, what kind of art would we have if we lived on Mars? What kind of music would we have? What kind of buildings would we have? It’s a really creative way to integrate science into a classroom or a Boy Scout troop or a Girl Scout troop. So that’s a pretty neat program too.

And I think we have some questions for Daisy. There’s a lot of students who are interested in what you’ve been doing, and I think we’ll take one of them now. Cathy?

Stephanie, Diana, and Daisy on screen

Cathy: Yeah, well we’ve got a question about Daisy, what do you plan to do when you finish high school, because this is your last year, you’re a senior, right?

Daisy speaking on screen

Daisy: Yes, I’m a senior in high school. What I plan to do is to go to college and go into the science field. I want to become a scientist, possibly an engineer. I’m still not sure. I’m still undecided, but all I can tell you is to take a lot of math and a lot of science. That is what you should do. It’s really fun, it’s great. And you’re going to have such a great time.

Stephanie: And I think that Daisy we might have some slides that show pictures of you really getting into the act, doing, on Mars. Is it possible to queue those?

Great I think we have some slides. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about those.

Slide: Core operations team at JPL

Daisy: Okay. This is where all the students were, it’s the core operations team at JPL. This is where we did our commands there, and we had our, there was a room and we had our big meetings and that’s, that is what oh, that is where our work space was for two days. And that is where we talk, the scientists are there. You can see scientists and students and all these big screens, these big plasma screens, which showed all the information and all the commands [that we sent out] and information and the pictures that we got back.

Slide: In the field at trench

Next slide. The next slide is when we were out in the field, when we were looking at the trench we had dug, which was our mission to dig a trench. And that is where all the students are and this is in the Mojave Desert, this is, was our test site. This is after the field test. We wanted to see what we had accomplished and wanted to see what work we did.

Slide: Picture of Fido

Next slide. Oh, this is a picture of our buddy, the Fido. This is well our prototype that we worked with. This is what we commanded and he’s the one that goes into Mars and he explores and he does all of that.

Daisy speaking on screen

Stephanie: Great, thank you. Here is another question for you Daisy. We wonder what was your favorite part about working with the rover?

Daisy: My favorite part? I think my favorite part was getting to know all the people that you basically had teleconferences with. And meeting, actually meeting them, because you have a voice but you don’t have-, you don’t see anybody. And what we did is we all got together and it was really fun. There were all these teenagers and then all these scientists. And it was a really great experience because a lot of the scientists-, you assume that because they’re big shots, they’re going to be kind of mean to you or they’re going to be like "oh I’m better than you." But no, they were really nice, and they were really great people and they helped us out a lot. And thank you to all of them because it was a great experience.

Stephanie, Diana, Daisy shown on screen

Cathy: And I have one more question. If you could tell us a little more about ways to get involved with just robotics. If there are any robotics competitions that students can do?

Daisy speaking on screen

Daisy: Yes, there are two robotics competitions. One of them is [dot bow] I believe, and the other is called First. And these are all robotics competitions. If you don’t want to go into Mars exploration.

Stephanie, Diana, Daisy on screen

Stephanie: And there’s lots more information on those education programs on the Web site as well. So, that’s great. Okay, well, I’m sorry, but we’re just about out of time. This has been so much fun and we’re so grateful. Thank you to our panelists visiting here. They’re all off over there. And thank you Daisy, so much for sharing all your experiences with us. That was really special.

Stephanie speaking on screen

We also want to thank the JPL video crew for their time in putting some of this video, these pieces together. We want to thank the JIT studio because they made this happen and we’re happy to be introducing everyone in our audience to so many great women.

Finally, thanks for being here for all of you who tuned in. You’re why we did this today. And we really hope that you’re able to pursue your dreams, whether they be in science or engineering or art. I think it was said best, that you can do it. I think Connie Gennaro said that. And we all support you.

So thank you so much. Don’t forget to fill out the survey. There’s a survey on this, the Quest site that we’d love to get some feedback so when we do another one of these, we can incorporate what you thought was good and better.

Okay. Thank you so much. And we will talk to you again soon.

Diana: Bye.

Video of space launch to Mars

 
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