In June, Innovate@UCLA hosted it’s fifth Virtual Series event of 2021, featuring NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Chief Information Officer: Randi Levin; along with Mars 2020 Deputy Chief Engineer: Dr. Keith Comeaux. Together they combined their years of professional experience to talk about Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s latest role in the Mars flagship mission: Perseverance. In this mission they were responsible for bringing to life Ingenuity. Ingenuity is the first non-Earth helicopter and the first technology demonstration that there can be powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The JPL team first covered what originally brought them to JPL and what role JPL had in a mission of this size. This contained key insights on how JPL structures their teams and how these teams are structured to support one another. They then shared how JPL as a whole functions to make decisions, and what large barriers needed to be overcome for the success of the Mars 2020 mission.
The quote “Sometimes you have to do something just to show you can do it” never rings more true after witnessing the speed of innovation at JPL from the first technology demonstration on Mars, the Pathfinder rover, in 1997 to a helicopter technology demonstration in 2021. Randi and Keith additionally explain the mechanics of the autonomous helicopter and how it is able to communicate with Earth through a relay system. They go on to detail the future of heliocraft acting as a scout to help explore Mars, as well as explaining new challenges that need to be solved and what can be taken from this Mission’s experience.