One of the last projects I supported at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was the Mars Science Laboratory. Most of my technical contributions were directed at testbed development and issue tracking. However, one of my fondest memories at the lab involved sitting in the cafeteria post-PDR (preliminary design review) having a conversation with MSL’s EDL engineers and researchers. I’ll never forget particular phrases such as “this will never work” and “there’s really no way to test this”. After some back and forth, one of the engineers ended up uttering the infamous Yoda quote. We all laughed, finished eating, and went back to work.
I still remember looking at the rover when it was just a SolidWorks rendering and a series of crude animations. While mechanical engineers were discussing fabrication, budget cuts from the top had everyone wondering if the project would ever be completed. Flash forward 6 years later and MSL is now on the “Red Planet”! To say I was choked up upon hearing “touchdown confirmed” would be the understatement of 2012.
I joined NASA full-time when I was 20. The people, culture, and workplace significantly shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t have ever learned how to debug difficult programs or pushed myself to solve incredible challenges over a short period of time. I’m forever grateful.