Perseverance, Ingenuity….and Me
Have you ever seen something miraculous? I sat glued to the television as I watched the Perseverance rover land on Mars on February 18, 2021. It looked much like the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars in August 2012. Both of them were built by scientists and engineers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This great feat was the culmination of many years of experimentation for space flight, much of which happened in my lifetime. How many of the following events do you remember? Did they surprise and inspire you?
When I was about 10 years old, I watched with my father as the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, the Russian satellite, Sputnik, flew over our back yard. I remember when Alan Shepard flew all alone on a suborbital flight, and then John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Some years later, there were the two-person Gemini flights and the amazing Apollo missions that first landed men on the moon. Thousands of people worked endless hours on these projects, of which they were rightfully proud. When the going got tough, the tough kept going. They persevered.
When I was growing up, the Astronaut program as was not open to women. I tried my best to figure out how I might qualify. It was going to take ingenuity for me to learn how I might be ready if they ever took female Astronauts.
When I saw the first physician in space, Dr. Joe Kerwin on Skylab, I set a goal of becoming a physician like him. Again, it was going to take spunk to get into medical school when less than 5% of classes were female. When I was accepted into medical school and spent four years working one-hundred-hour weeks as a surgery residency, I learned what dedication and perseverance really were.
During my surgery residency, women were finally accepted into the Astronaut program and I applied. Going through Astronaut training taught me new lessons in perseverance as I prepared for my space flights. I was reminded of the dedication shown by all NASA staff as I watched Perseverance landing on Mars.
Can you imagine the determination it must have taken the men and women who built the Perseverance rover and the small helicopter-like Ingenuity vehicle that it carried? All the commands for their space voyage and landing on the surface of Mars had to be programmed in advance to run automatically. Any commands from Earth would have taken more than eleven minutes to be received on Mars, much too long for any corrective actions.
NASA’s Thomas Surbuchen said: ”It is curiosity that challenges us to explore, ingenuity that makes exploration possible, and perseverance that does not let us give up.” I am in awe of the amazing Perseverance mission to Mars and my hat is off to all the fine men and women who worked so hard to make it happen.
Congratulations! — Rhea
To receive Rhea’s blog to your inbox, simply sign up here, and we will see you next month!