Taiwan-born engineer Yen Jeng (嚴正), a member of NASA’s Perseverance rover team, on Saturday shared behind-the-scene stories of the Ingenuity helicopter, which has completed two flights on Mars.
Yen, a 20-year veteran at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is head of the Robot Interfaces and Visualization team, which prepares the computer code that guides Perseverance’s movements on Mars.
In a virtual speech, Yen said that the Ingenuity helicopter has been the attention-grabber on the mission.
“There are no repair shops on Mars,” Yen said, adding that every step of the mission had to be repeatedly rehearsed.
Just the decoupling of the helicopter from the rover took 10 days and was nerve-racking, he said, as there was a moment when the helicopter’s antenna nearly snagged on the rover.
A broken antenna would have scrapped the mission as it is how the helicopter communicates with the rover, he said.
The decoupling was on pause for two days, during which NASA reconfigured the rover’s path to avoid a run-in, he said.
The helicopter’s success is a breakthrough in how humans can explore Mars, he said, as the distance that humans can travel on the planet has increased fivefold.
Yen, a graduate of Jianguo High School in Taipei and National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, said he was inspired to pursue a career related to space after seeing the Pathfinder rover land on Mars more than 20 years ago.
As he was not particularly studious, Yen said he felt lucky to participate in such a significant milestone for humankind.
Yen’s speech was hosted by the Global Federation of Chinese Business Women, a group founded in San Francisco by businesswomen originally from Taiwan.
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