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Wichita Southeast HS grad plays key role in successful Mars mission

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 5:47 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - NASA’s Perseverance rover on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 18) successfully landed on the surface of Mars following a seven-month long journey to the red planet. The was a Kansas connection to the special day.

One man behind missions operations graduated from Wichita Southeast High School in 1984. The rover’s landing actually marked Todd Barber’s fourth mission to Mars. He called Thursday’s landing a thrill of a lifetime.

“It’s always nerve wracking. There’s a million things that have to go right,” said Barber, a propulsion engineer in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “If any one thing doesn’t, it’s game over, so that puts the stress factor pretty high.”

He said the rover’s landing builds on prior missions.

“But it’s just so unbelievable,” Barber said. “The cool new things that are on board. We have a Mars helicopter. It’s a true Wright Brothers Moment coming up. We’re collecting samples of Mars for NASA’s long sample return campaign and making oxygen on Mars.”

Before Barber landed at NASA, he earned degrees from M.I.T. Before that, he attended Wichita Public Schools.

“I must credit USD 259 and my incredible K-12 teachers in Wichita, Kansas,” he said.

Barber said working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is his dream job he’s held for more than 30 years.

“I’ve always said hard work trumps intelligence and opportunity every time,” he said. “If you just put the work in, you end up with jobs like this that feel like passion projects.”

Barber hopes missions to Mars inspire others to work hard to reach their dreams.

NASA Todd Barber

There's a Kansas connection to the Mars landing today. Hear from the propulsion lead engineer, Todd Barber, on KWCH 12 Eyewitness News at 4pm and 6pm. And, here's his advice to young people watching the NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration live coverage right now:

Posted by Lily Wu on Thursday, February 18, 2021

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