ROB MANNING is the Chief Engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. MANNING has been designing, testing and operating robotic spacecraft and rovers for 30 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. In the 1990’s Rob was chief engineer for Mars Pathfinder, the first to send a rover to Mars. He also led flight system engineering for the Rover Entry, Descent and Landing teams. Rob is in the Aviation Week Magazine Space Laureate Hall of Fame in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
We talk just hours before the rover Curiosity landed on Mars. Using a never-before-tried landing system called a “sky crane,” the degree of difficulty of this landing is enormous. After parachuting to within one mile of the surface, the sky crane fires thrusters to lower itself to hover over the surface. While hovering, Curiosity is lowered to the ground on cables. Once the cables are released, the sky crane jets to a safe distance before crashing to the ground, leaving the rover to explore the planet’s surface. We’ll talk with Manning about the aims as well as the challenges of this mission.