In the brief moments between the time the Mars Science Laboratory’s parachute was deployed and the announcement that Curiosity had landed, Edward Wong was more nervous than most of the hundreds of people watching the giant HD monitors at Cal Tech late Sunday night.
That’s because Wong, an Arcadia resident, was one of just ten people on Earth responsible for the design of the SkyCrane responsible for gently lowering the $2.5 billion rover to the red planet.
Wong breathed a sigh of relief and exhibited a broad smile at the culmination of years of work that resulted in a flawlessly successful rover landing millions of miles from Earth. In fact, every phase of the landing process went so smoothly, that Wong has called it the best result he has ever seen since he started working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. And that dates back to the first Voyager space probe in the mid-1970s.
Wong — who sits on the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce board and once served as President of the Arcadia Chinese Association — has been instrumental in the development and oversight of key elements of the Mars Science Laboratory project, which includes the Curiosity rover.
His work included the initial technology development program.
A key element of the landing was the Skycrane Landing System that deployed from the spacecraft as it hurtled towards the surface of Mars. Wong is one of the ten inventors of the United States Skycrane Design Patent.
The whole Mars landing took about seven minutes, and so all the maneuvers had to be done automatically. It was Wong who managed the MSL Guidance and Control Analysis Team, which developed the smartness inside the flight computer to control the spacecraft by firing thrusters based on sensors measurements. This algorithm software was developed and delivered about three years ago to other MSL teams for testing and integration.
The Guidance and Control developed by Wong's team, which received team awards from MSL project on innovative strategy and algorithm software delivery, is a critical element of each phase of multiple phases of MSL:
- control the orientation of vehicle while cruising from Earth to Mars.
- control of vehicle during atmospheric entry and landing on a designated area.
- control of the Curiosity rover on Mars surface while doing exploration.
None of this is new for Wong, who is a Principal Engineer and Technical Group Leader for spacecraft guidance and control design and analysis for flight projects. The winner of NASA's Exceptional Service Medal has worked on many JPL projects in addition to MSL, including the pioneering 1970s Voyager space probes as well as the subsequent Galileo, Cassini spacecraft. He also worked on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and the Advanced Mirror Development project.
Wong,who received an M.S. from Brown University and doctorate degree from UCLA, taught a Numerical Analysis course offered though UCLA Extension. In his spare time he and his wife Dorothy became so proficient at line dancing, that he now teaches line dancing.
Next up for Wong? A new project that is closer to home: an Earth mission measuring soil moisture.
Read more by Scott Hettrick at ArcadiasBest.com.
Hettrick's City Views blog is not intended to reflect any position of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce, where he is Executive Director.