Landing Curiosity, meet the man behind NASA’s rover

Why go to Mars? 'Cause it's next. 'Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what's next. - West Wing

Dave Lavery is the Program Executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA. Lavery led the Curiosity rover mission to Mars. After its entry, descent and perfect landing, the rover Curiosity settled in the Martian soil 154 million miles from Earth and began looking for signs of habitable environments, studying the planet’s climate and geology and helping NASA assess the potential of a future human mission.

For his work Lavery has been nominated for a Service to America Medal by the Partnership for Public Service. Lavery told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the Curiosity mission has been a monumental project that started more than 10 years ago.

The Curiosity rover already has used its cameras and drilling capability to locate evidence of water-bearing and clay minerals inside a drilled rock. Analysis of powder from a drilled mudstone rock indicates past environmental conditions that were favorable for microbial life. An analysis of the surface dust on Mars also points to volcanic origins.

Eyes of the world

Millions of people watched as Curiosity landed on Mars, but Lavery didn't notice, "We were so focused on what was going on that we didn't realize how interested the world was in what we were doing. We were so focused on the data showing up on our screens."

History of rovers

"Curiosity is the fourth Mars rover i've worked on. The first was Sojourner in 1997. In 2004 we launched Spirit and Opportunity. We treat them as team members. We refer to them as she. Spirit and Opportunity were created as twins but developed their own personalities and quirks. 

Why go to Mars?

"We as a humanity have had questions about Mars ever since we recognized it as something unique in the sky. It was a tiny red dot that moved among the stars, and we had to ask ourselves what is that? And so we began to study and it became known as our closest neighbor in the cosmos. We asked, 'could Mars have ever supported life?' And it is that quest to understand more about Mars and in pursuit of those fundamental questions  that we explore."

Return of investment

"Investments in engineering, technology and science infrastructure on a very pragmatic level have an enormous return on the economy as well. Studies show that every dollar that NASA spends on investments in technology returns somewhere between $6-9 dollars. That is a huge increase to give back into the national economy in a very short term."

Doubling down on procurements

"Typically the things you look at for big projects are price, schedule and performance. For this one, performance, getting to Mars on-time successfully and safety is our number one priority. We have a very specific launch windows. We can only launch the Rover every 26 months."

Geeks parade

"We are all geeks of the first order, we all know it. But every now and then you sit back and you say geez this thing I worked on, that has my virtual finger prints on it, is sitting o the surface of another planet, it blows you away."

Connecting to the Rover

"One connect can take anywhere between 20-45 minutes. So you can't sit there and joy stick it the way you would a Nintendo video game. You have to tell the Rover where to go based off of the camera in front of the rover."

You can find all our Sammies interviews here.

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