t’s an invitation the man’s who’s guided the Curiosity Rover will bring when he speaks Friday to an audience at SAIT.
“It’s a fun job and I hope my presence will inspire people to come do it,” said Heverly.
“We are always looking for good people and there’s a lot of work at the Jet Propulsion Lab.”
Nothing would probably be more enticing than simply hearing about the adventures the mobility systems engineer has lived through the 900-kg rover he’s piloted from up to 400 million km away at a California lab.
Heverly and his colleagues put together a list of commands that’s essentially emailed to the six-wheeled rover that’s then expected to carry them out.
It takes anywhere from five to 20 minutes for the orders to arrive on the dusty, rocky surface of the red planet.
“We customarily send a program every day to the rover that’s too far away to drive with a joy stick,” said Heverly, who commanded the vehicle for “a couple of years.
“You don’t sleep very well at night because you don’t know what the rover is going to encounter, sometimes it slips too much or goes over a rock.”
A recent NASA web posting states Curiosity traversed 28.5 metres of Martian terrain in 48 minutes.
While NASA’s Spirit Rover’s life has come to an end, Curiosity has outlived its three year limit and “has gone past its warranty,” said Heverly.
Guiding the bug-like vehicle across the vastness of space is a thrill like no other, said the mechanical engineer.
“With all the engineering constraints, to know we are commanding a robot on another planet, it’s an amazing job,” he said.
The height of the project’s achievement is nailing down the knowledge the evidence of water on Mars means the planet was habitable in its ancient past, said Heverly.
He’s now working on an unnamed exploratory vehicle to be launched towards Mars in 2020 and is confident a manned mission will one day embark for the planet.
His message to SAIT students, who can follow the rovers’ progress on NASA’s website: “We can all rise to challenges, we can all be Martian explorers.”