The ride has just begun for Filipino-American engineers that worked on NASA's Mars Perseverance mission from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, as the rover continues to bring in new images nearly two weeks since landing on the Red Planet.
"It’s still amazing, whenever we see new images that get downloaded, we feel like we’re there vacationing on Mars. I think it’s cool just for the images," said NASA Engineer Genevie Yang.
Along with communications engineer Ed Gonzales, Yang and Gregorio Villar III were part of the team that successfully landed the Perseverance rover.
Villar, who helped engineer the landing, is now collecting data from the ground.
Laguna-born Yang is continuing with a more hands-on role.
"I’m working on surface operations. I’m trying to learn all the new tools, and make sure we can function," she said.
Villar added, "So Gen is operating the rover, she’s operating Perseverance on Mars."
Both Yang and Villar have long been bound for scientific journeys.
Yang's father, Antonio Velarde, is an engineer for a local power company.
For the Long Beach-born Villar, he discovered his STEM skills during his high school years in Baguio City.
"I think it influenced me in the sense that I was usually the top of my class for just math and science, I did not do well in Filipino or language. In that sense, I knew I wanted to do something in math and science in the future because I represented our schools at math and physics olympiads," he said.
While the objective of the Perseverance was to find signs of ancient life, they believe the mission is also a chance to inspire others.
"I hope that we can serve as a beam of hope for other younger Filipinos to get to where we are today. I never really thought that it would be this big, it’s just more of following something that I love to do, and coincidentally, it just became a big thing to the world. So I think it’s just important to follow something that you love to do," he said.
Many of the team members are working on the retrieval mission which will pick up the samples that Perseverance collects.
The Perseverance is expected to stay on Mars for two years.
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