Q&A: Meet a JPL Engineer Who Worked on the Mission to Mars

Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Gregory Galgana Villar III is one of the Operations Systems Engineers on the Mars Science Laboratory. Patch asked him several questions about why this mission to the red planet is historic.

With hours to go before the scheduled Mars landing of NASA's car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, Patch chatted with operations systems engineer Gregory Galgana Villar III to find out why this mission matters. 

Q: Why do you think so many folks, people who don't work in the field of science, are so interested in Curiosity - what is it about  this mission that is different than previous missions?

A: I believe so many folks, people who don't work in the field of science, are so interested in Curiosity because it is out of this world =)

Curiosity is the biggest and most sophisticated rover that has ever been sent to Mars. Curiosity is the size of Mini Cooper and weighs almost 2,000 pounds. Curiosity will be placed on the surface of Mars using a very complex landing system. Curiosity is equipped with 10 scientific payloads, a total of 17 cameras, an arm, a drill, and a battery powered by heat from naturally decaying radioactive material. I can go on and on about why people are interested in Curiosity.

Q: What specifically did you do for the mission?

A: I was part of a team that was responsible for coordinating operational readiness tests for the different phases of the mission. These tests are training exercises that involve hundreds of engineers with the goal of making sure all of the tools, procedures, process and interactions between the teams function correctly, while under a flight-like timeline.

Q: How long have you been involved with Curiosity - any previous experience with rovers?

A: I have been involved with Curiosity since January 2011 and have not had any pervious experience with rovers considering I was hired at JPL just a few months before I started working on Curiosity.

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: The best part of my job is the people I work with. It is a pleasure and honor to be able to work with and learn from the best engineers and scientists in the world. 

Q: What is your darkest fear in your mind about it going wrong?

A: Regardless of what happens on landing night, the outcome will be a great learning experience. Nothing will go to waste.

Q: Do you think you'll sleep Saturday night - why or why not?

A: With all of the excitement, it will be hard to sleep on Saturday night. However, I will be part of the team that will operate Curiosity when it gets to Mars, so I should try and get some sleep and be fully rested.

Q: How does it feel to have put in thousands of hours of work on Curiosity when talk in Washington is about cutting future missions?

A: Over the past year and a half, I have put in about 4000 hours of work on Curiosity and I feel this was time well spent. Witnessing a successful mission like the Mars Science Laboratory will increase support from the descision makers in Washington for future missions.

Q: What's next for you and Mars?

A: After Curiosity lands, I will be part of the surface operations team as a Science Planner. I will be facilitating the daily planning process where scientists and engineers decide what we want the rover to do next.


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