Wichita Southeast HS grad plays key role in successful Mars mission
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.
A successful landing of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance! We are #WPSProud of Todd Barber, Southeast High School graduate, who was in Mission Control as the Lead Propulsion Engineer for the project! @WichitaSEHS @NASAPersevere pic.twitter.com/89pzwJ7CYC— Wichita Public Schools (@WichitaUSD259) February 18, 2021
“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.
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