Public Affairs

CSU Contributes to Curiosity

Aug. 16, 2012
By Elizabeth Chapin

CuriosityWhen NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars Aug. 5, it captured the attention and imagination of the world. But the brainpower behind Curiosity’s mission is right here in California. And it includes several CSU alumni and students.

Campus alumni from Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona, Sacramento and San Diego—as well as two students in CSU’s STAR teacher education program—played a variety of roles in the mission, which is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Project, which runs the rover.

San Diego State grad Jordan P. Evans is among the nearly 20 CSU alumni who work at JPL. Evans, who has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from SDSU, is the mission’s Engineering Development and Operations Manager. He was in master control when Curiosity landed on Mars. Despite the successful landing, Evans says the most challenging part of his job is dealing with technical issues.

“We try to devise the right set of tests and analyses we need to understand a problem, and then we develop ways to fix it,” Evans said. “But these challenges are also one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of my job.”

Another alumnus, Martin Greco, wrote the procedure that is used for the last six days of the rover’s journey to Mars—the intense period called the entry, descent and landing (EDL). In short, Greco had a lot of responsibility for that successful landing, too.

Greco, who earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Cal Poly Pomona, says his fascination with space started early.

“Since I was little playing with plastic blocks and putting together models, air and space have always been something I wanted to be a part of,” Greco said. “I hope that one day we are able to land humans on Mars. This would not only increase our understanding of the planet itself, but more importantly provide a huge leap in our understanding of manned spaceflight.”

But it wasn’t just CSU alumni working on Curiosity. Future math and science teachers Jenna Murphy and Victoria Campbell contributed to the mission too. The CSU STEM Teachers and Researchers (STAR) program brought the two undergrads to the JPL for a summer internship that had them working full-time on research projects with the MSL.

Campbell, a Sacramento State geology major, took part in a research project to identify Martian rock minerals. Murphy, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo applied mathematics major, focused on planning the samples’ return mission.

In addition to their contributions to the MSL, the two also participated in weekly education workshops focused on exploring the nature of science—and how to transfer that experience to the classroom.

Victoria Campbell and Jenna MurphyMurphy was at the JPL the night Curiosity landed, surrounded by the NASA team waiting in anticipation.

“When Curiosity landed, I cheered and celebrated with the scientists who worked on the project,” Murphy said. “So many people put their hearts and souls into this, and it was amazing to be part of it and to feel connected to it.”

Murphy and Campbell’s connection to Curiosity is also sure to inspire their future pupils. The mission has already captured the curiosity of millions of young people.

President Obama recently called the team at JPL to congratulate them on the successful landing, and told them: “The byproduct of the kind of work you have done is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country to get into the sciences.”

Check out how CSU alumni have contributed to the mission:

  • Charles Baker, CSU Sacramento
    MSL Launch, Cruise and EDL Mission Planner
  • Ed Bennet, CSU Los Angeles
    Configuration Management Engineer
  • Ekko Burt, Cal Poly Pomona
    Electrical Engineer
  • Michael Cayanan, Cal Poly Pomona
    Software Engineer
  • Dina El Deeb, CSU Northridge, CSU Los Angeles
    Tactical Downlink Lead, Systems Engineer, Mission Assurance Support
  • Jordan Evans, San Diego State
    Engineering Development and Operations Manager-Mars Science Laboratory
  • Barrie Gauthier, CSU Long Beach
    Electrical Systems Engineer
  • Martin Greco, Cal Poly Pomona
    EDL Activity Lead
  • Jose Guzman, Cal Poly Pomona
    Integration and Test Engineer
  • Quy Ho, Cal Poly Pomona
    Software Engineer
  • Ted Iskenderian, Cal Poly Pomona
    Senior Mechanical Engineer, Cognizant Engineer of Rover Lift Mechanism
  • Bill Kert, CSU Los Angeles
    Contract Negotiator
  • Alfred Khashaki, Cal Poly Pomona
    Design Engineer
  • Mark Ryne, San Diego State
    Senior Member Technical Staff
  • Paul Stella, CSU Northridge
    Principal Engineer, Spacecraft Power Systems
  • Scot Stride, CSU Fullerton
    Member of Technical Staff
  • Peter Xaypraseuth, Cal Poly Pomona
    Mission Planner, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project