As a part of Nationwide Geographic Dwell, Chief Engineer Kobie Boykins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been touring the world of late. As a part of this system’s purpose of getting featured audio system share their behind-the-scenes tales, Boykins has been showcasing the accomplishments of NASA’s Mars robotic exploration applications – of which he performed a serious position.
This week, his tour introduced him to my hometown, the place he delivered a presentation to a packed home on the Royal Theatre right here in of Victoria, BC. Titled “Exploring Mars”, Boykins shared private tales of what it was wish to be an integral a part of the staff that created the Sojourner, Spirit, Alternative, Curiosity and Mars 2020 rovers. I had the glory of attending the occasion, and having the ability to do some Q&A with him after the present.
Relating to the exploration of Mars, there are few extra certified than Boykins, whose work with NASA JPL goes again to the Mars Pathfinder mission of 1997. It was presently that Boykins, whereas nonetheless a university pupil, helped fabricate the cleats used on the Sojourner rover’s wheels. Since then, he has gone on to guide the staff that designed the photo voltaic arrays that powered the Spirit and Alternative rovers.
Kobie Boykins talking as a part of his Nat Geo Dwell “Mars Exploration” lecture. Credit score: Nationwide Geographic
He and his design staff had been additionally chargeable for growing the actuators on the Mars Curiosity rover and was the supervisor of the mobility and distant sensing groups (MAST) for Curiosity and Mars 2020. And with regards to partaking the general public on the advantages of area exploration and sharing his inspiration, Boykins is a veteran there too.
In 2002, Boykins joined “Marsapalooza”, a staff of younger scientists who toured with the intention to consciousness of the Mars Exploration Mission. In 2003, he turned a part of NASA’s M-Workforce, which lectured nationally to college students concerning careers within the STEM fields. And by 2006, he was featured within the JASON Mission Expedition “Mysteries of Earth and Mars“, a curriculum program designed to encourage center schoolers to pursue careers in science.
The presentation started in earnest with Boykins sharing anecdotes of what it’s wish to be an engineer engaged on a NASA mission and what impressed him to change into a NASA engineer within the first place. As a local of Nebraska, Boykins grew up in an space the place there was little gentle air pollution. On a transparent night time, he and his sister would climb onto their roof to search for on the night time sky and ponder the probabilities.
The main target then shifted to the exploration of Mars and a lesser-known side of issues. With a give attention to two applications – the Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit and Alternative) and the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity and Mars 2020) – Boykins supplied a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes at JPL and what it’s wish to be an engineer engaged on the robotic explorers.
This started with Boykins sharing official NASA animations of the Alternative and Curiosity rovers leaving Earth and journeying to Mars in 2003 and 2011. This included the launch aboard two multi-stage rockets (a ULA Delta II Heavy and an Atlas V, respectively), months of touring between the planets, after which managed landings involving parachutes and/or inflatable balls and skycranes.
All through, he supplied a play-by-play of the know-how concerned, the in depth testing and planning that went into the launch, flight, touchdown, and deployment of every rover. As Boykins made clear throughout the course of his presentation, a substantial period of time and preparation goes into essentially the most primary of actions, whether or not it’s attending to Mars or commencing science operations as soon as on the floor.
And given the time lag between Earth and Mars when they’re closest – 6 to 10 minutes, relying on whether or not the mission has entered the ambiance – the touchdown course of is an actual nail-biter. As Boykins put it:
“From the time we hit the higher ambiance of Mars ’til the car is bouncing alongside the floor, takes six minutes. However one-way gentle time from Mars – i.e. if a sign was despatched from Mars and despatched again to Earth – that sign would take ten minutes. So once we hit the higher ambiance, the rover despatched a sign again to Earth. Six minutes later, that sign was not at Earth, however the rover was bouncing alongside the floor of Mars. 4 minutes after that, we acquired a sign that it hit the higher ambiance. There’s nothing we will do as human beings to repair or save that car on its approach in the direction of the floor of Mars. If it doesn’t make it, it’s only a unhealthy day.”
Right here lies one other problem that Boykins’ addressed, which is the fabled “Mars Curse“, which refers back to the 40% success fee area companies have had when making an attempt to land on Mars. However as he demonstrated utilizing a graphic that confirmed the totally different touchdown zones for NASA missions through the years, the vary has narrowed significantly, owing to advances in know-how – notably by way of communication, navigation, and steering programs.
Highlights from each missions adopted, which included how the Spirit and Alternative rovers vastly exceeded their mission parameters (function for 90 days and journey 600 meters). For its half, Alternative remained in operation for nearly 15 years and traveled a complete of 45.16 km (28.06 mi) – setting a brand new document for off-world distance travelled.
Whereas the rover’s mission was formally resulted in February, Boykins indicated that they could try and make contact with it once more sooner or later. One other spotlight was the mysterious rock that Alternative present in its touchdown space in 2005, which turned out to be the stays of an iron meteorite. This was the primary meteorite of any sort to ever be recognized on one other planet, nevertheless it was not the final.
Three Generations of Mars Rovers within the ‘Mars Yard’ on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Mars Pathfinder Mission (entrance) landed the primary Mars rover – Sojourner – in 1997. The Mars Exploration Rover Mission (left) landed Spirit and Alternative on Mars in 2004. The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
For Curiosity, the highlights included the small ball-shaped steel meteorite it got here throughout and studied with its laser, the numerous traces of proof that the Gale Crater (the place it landed in 2012) as soon as held a standing physique of water, and the second the staff realized that Curiosity‘s wheels had been choosing up holes. One other brilliant spot was Boykins rationalization of how the Sojourner, Spirit, Alternative, and Curiosity rovers had been all named.
In a practice going again to the Pathfinder mission (1997), this was executed with an essay contest, the place college students from everywhere in the US submitted concepts primarily based on what area exploration means to them. Again in September, NASA introduced that it was in search of companions for one more such contest, the place Ok-12 college students may have the prospect to call the Mars 2020 rover.
What adopted was some Q&A, the place the viewers acquired to ask questions on what it’s wish to work at NASA and what lies forward for Mars exploration. One factor that Boykins was clear on was that humanity shouldn’t look to Mars as a “backup location”, which places him within the camp reverse individuals like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkins.
The rover wheels utilized by the Alternative (left) and Sojourner (proper) rovers. Credit score: Carla Jack
The excessive level of the night – for me, anyway – was the casual Q&A session that happened after the discuss was over. Boykins not solely let individuals deal with the rover wheels he introduced with him from JPL – the identical sort that had been used on the Sojourner and Alternative rovers (proven under) – he additionally let individuals get some footage with him. I used to be one such individual, as you may see from the photograph at prime.
For his accomplishments, Boykins was awarded the NASA Distinctive Service Medal, the best honor that may be bestowed upon a civilian. Trying forward, he may also play a serious position in creating the Europa Clipper mission, which will probably be exploring Jupiter’s satellite tv for pc for indicators of doable life beneath the floor.
As a part of Nat Geo Dwell’s “Exploring Mars”, Boykins will probably be presenting to audiences throughout North America till January of 2020. To see the place occasions will probably be happening (or to e-book an occasion) take a look at the tour dates right here. And remember to take a look at a few of Nationwide Geographic’s function movies, the place Boykins’ discusses Mars exploration, the significance of planetary safety, and the 22 years he has spent working with NASA JPL.
Additional Studying: NAT GEO