A NASA engineer explains how it operates on Mars

  • Insider spoke with Heather Justice, NASA’s Mars Persuasion Driver, who operates the rover remotely.
  • The team has arranged a successful set operation, but the drivers have faced.
  • The judge indicated that maintaining a work-life balance was difficult.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has been almost a year since COVID-19 was declared an epidemic and NASA, like most companies, is facing the ongoing effects and challenges posed by the crisis. But unlike other companies, U.S. The space agency is doing so while presiding over a very ambitious mission to Mars.

For engineers and scientists working on the Mars 2020 mission with its Perseverance Rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, a major challenge is the adjustment of new working styles. This means that some rover drivers, for example, have adopted the hybrid-working model.

Insider spoke with Heather Justice, a NASA engineer on the Perseverance Rover team, about the challenges of driving a machine. He also spoke about following orders during epidemics while operating during the Mars period and how to make new scientific discoveries.

The judge has worked at NASA since 2011 and as a rover driver on the Mars 2020 mission. She was the leading driver for the Ort Furnace Rover, which traveled more than 45 km and operated on Mars from 2004 to 2018.

Faced with lockdowns and social-distance restrictions, he changed the way teams operate operating, which began on July 30, 2020, and worked together as a team. “It’s definitely something different than running a brand new rover on Mars,” he said.

Under normal circumstances with rovers of the past, all of the team will come to the JPL and work together in the first two months of operation. “It’s a group experience to work with all the engineers and scientists,” Justice said.

He added: “As rover drivers, we also do our own little hoddling thing where we would look at the images and say: ‘This part of the terrain feels ste bho,’ “Now, we can’t really do that. Right now we can’t get around the computer all at once so it becomes a little more challenging.”

Considering the effects of the epidemic, the perseverance team has had to think of different ways of working. The team used to work in an organized facility filled with many rooms, where all the scientists and engineers come together.

“Instead we only have a few basic engineering roles that really need to be collaborated in the lab there but spread to new workstations that are really far away,” Justice said. “We’re like yelling at each other from our separate workstations, but making it a little easier to collaborate without putting too much emphasis on all the virtual meetings.”

A particular challenge arose from the fact that teams could not scurry around the computer to discuss where the rover was driving. Instead, scientists and engineers have to put all the sequences together that will eventually command the rover through teleconferencing systems.

The judge said this is a popular way of communicating between teams, which is spread across all workplaces due to social-distance restrictions. In addition, remote team members who are responsible for navigation cameras will have to coordinate with rover drivers in laboratories to obtain the necessary images of the terrain.

But to be fair, there has certainly been a lot of improvement and evolution in the process of driving rovers. Some of them are focusing on flight systems, where they have tried to make drones more efficient.

She said: “An example would be an autonomous navigation where we’ve made a lot of improvements to the software so that the rover can run on its own. Hopefully in the long run that will make it easier for us to get long drives to places where science really wants us to go. Let’s go on. “

“The hardware has also improved, where the wheels are different from the Curiosity so it’s stronger to drive on sharp rocks.”

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Adam Steltzner, Chief Engineer of Perseverance, shows the Rover Wheel during an overview of NASA Perseverance Rover mission engineering and technology.


Preparing for justice was the key before immersing oneself in the Mars mission. He said, “I was very good at ensuring that the big things that were done during this period were done in advance.” “I also made sure I stored the food, as I didn’t know I would be able to reach the grocery store to buy groceries when I’m in the middle of the night trying to eat.”

When asked how she managed the balance of her working life, the judge indicated it was difficult. “We’re also working on the weekends, it’s 7 days a week so there was definitely a period where I forgot what day of the week it was.”

“It’s not like you have eight hours of your normal day and you go home and you stop thinking about it,” the judge said.

Then, of course, working on Mars time is an added challenge: “You’re working and sleeping on odd hours and that changes every day – you don’t really have a consistent schedule,” he added.