Behind the Spacecraft: Engineer Lands Spacecraft on Mars… Again


April 30, 2020

NASA-JPL engineer Al Chen is no stranger to landing things on Mars. In fact, it's sort of the family business. Both Al and his wife have had the opportunity to land spacecraft on the Red Planet. Up next, Al will be at the helm as NASA's Perseverance Mars rover makes its entry, descent and landing into the Martian atmosphere: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020

TRANSCRIPT
One way or another you're going to be on the ground in seven minutes. We want it to be there safely. I'm Al Chen and I lead the landing team for Mars 2020. Entry, descent and landing is all about getting the vehicle from the top of the atmosphere down to the bottom safely. We hit the atmosphere going you know 12, 13,000 miles per hour. We have to deploy a supersonic parachute and that's all before we get down into powered flight. See we have a new system that'll take over at this point. It'll start taking images of the ground. That'll let us figure out where we are in latitude and longitude. Jezero Crater, the site we're going to with Mars 2020, was actually rejected for Curiosity because the site was considered too unsafe and really the terrain was way too rough but now we have the ability to land at these places that we never really could go to before. The Jezero Crater site if you look at it from space is pretty obviously a delta. We think that Mars was habitable about four billion years ago so the question is, not just, "where was that life?" but also, "where could it be preserved for four more billion years for us to find it later?" I worked on Curiosity for 10 years so this is a very familiar feeling. I think I was too young the first time to really realize what was at stake. "Big G's on the order of 11, 12." "We are in powered flight." I've been on the other side of this too. My wife was front and center on InSight. This is actually the same seat that my wife was sitting in for the InSight landing. The same seat that I was in actually back in 2012 for the Curiosity landing as well. "Coming up on entry." A lot of history for us in this room. [Cheering]. We've might be uniquely positioned as two folks who are married to each other to know what it's like to land things on Mars.

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