Meet Some of the Asians Who Helped Develop & Land the Mars Rover

February 21, 2021

Swati Mohan is the guidance, navigation, and controls (GN&C) operations lead for the Mars 2020 mission, based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Indian-American engineer played a key role in the successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars Thursday, February 18.

During the dramatic descent and landing phase, Mohan provided updates on the mission, with her comments broadcast around the world as part of NASA’s live stream of the historic event. A NASA veteran who was also on the Cassini mission, she has been on the Mars 2020 team since near its beginning in 2013, according to CNET.

Ny Sou Okon and her husband are both engineers at JPL and they both spent years helping to build the Perseverance.

Ny Sou Okon. Image via Press-Telegram

Okon’s family fled their home in Cambodia, some 9,000 miles from Cape Canaveral, to Vietnam, the closest refuge. Under the Khmer Rouge’s four-year reign, from 1975-1979, up to 3 million people — or one-third of the country’s population — would be killed in mass executions or because of the poor conditions in forced labor camps.

They eventually arrived in the United States where Okon’s parents both worked full-time in the textile industry to support the family. Okon excelled in school and later attended UCLA, where she studied mechanical engineering. She later worked for Boeing and Northrop Grumman before joining JPL in 2016, according to Press-Telegram.

Chinese-American Al Chen leads the Entry, Descent, and Landing into the Martian atmosphere in conjunction with Swati Mohan for the Mars 2020 mission. Landing Mars robots is a family affair for him: His wife, fellow systems engineer Julie Wertz Chen, ensured the InSight lander safely touched down back in 2018, according to Scitech Daily.

Gregorio Villar III is the Filipino-American engineer in charge of the operations systems for the Entry Descent Landing Systems. He spent seven and a half years building and testing a system that would land a car-sized rover on Mars.

Working with NASA JPL for more than a decade now, Villar heads the verification and validation engineer for the entry, descent, and landing phase of the project.

During his stint at the NASA JPL, he also led a parachute test campaign in the world’s largest wind tunnel, as well as a council of atmospheric scientists to study the Martian atmosphere.

Villar completed his secondary school at Saint Louis University – Laboratory High School in Baguio City, according to CNN Philippines.

JPL is nearly 47% Asian, which is impressive, since Asians only make up 5.6% of the U.S. population.

Feature Images via CNN Philippines, Newsweek, Click Orlando & Press-Telegram

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