While NASA’s Mars rover is coming in for landing Thursday, there are two engineers’ voices you’ll want to listen out for as the spacecraft carrying the rover completes a series of maneuvers to safely land on the red planet.
During NASA’s last rover landing in 2012, livestream listeners would have heard Al Chen, who leads the entry, descent and landing into the Martian atmosphere, making the calls as the spacecraft barreled down through the Martian atmosphere. Chen will again be there making the final calls announcing a successful touchdown but one of his deputies, Swati Mohan, will be calling out the descent and entry milestones.
Mohan is the Mars 2020 Guidance, Navigation and Controls Operations, or GN&C, lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where the rover, also known as Perseverance, was built and tested. The GN&C system acts as the “eyes and ears” of the spacecraft, bringing the rover down to the ground, according to NASA.
When asked Tuesday during a media briefing ahead of Thursday’s Mars arrival, Perseverance deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper explained Mohan is who everyone will want to listen out for during the seven-minute landing sequence.
“Swati Mohan will be calling Perseverance down,” Trosper said. “She’s a guidance navigation and control engineer who’s been working tirelessly on entry, descent and landing.”
Mohan will be looking out to make sure the spacecraft is pointed correctly in space as it enters the Martian atmosphere and maneuvers correctly for a safe landing.
Chen explained during a Jan. 26 NASA media briefing the spacecraft will have to slow from down to supersonic speeds using a 70-foot diameter parachute while still traveling at almost twice the speed of sound.
“Entry, descent and landing is the most critical and most dangerous part of the mission. Success is never assured. And that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the biggest heaviest and most complicated rover we’ve ever built,” Chen said.
Chen will be giving the final call everyone will want to hear of “touchdown nominal” if the rover lands on its wheels in one piece.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA’s JPL mission control won’t be full of engineers like in 2012 when the Curiosity rover landed but the excitement (and stress) will still be there.
Learn more about Chen in the NASA video below: