NASA's reaction propulsion laboratory in Pasadena was swarming with people as the countdown approached on November 26 at noon. Engineers from all over the world, Julie Wertz Chen and Christine Szalai, worked in control of the main console console. They then starred as the Mars InSight space shuttle began the "Seven Minute of Terror" – plunging into the atmosphere at 16 times the speed of sound and then landing softly on the dusty surface of Red Planet.
Only 40% of landings on Mars have already been successful and InSight has just joined their ranks. "You can not do a full test before landing on Mars. [had to] be confident enough to run it, "says Wertz Chen, who has been running precision landing simulations for months. This was only NASA's second attempt at EDL – entry, descent and landing – this decade, and the US is still the only country to have landed successfully on Mars. "It was definitely the experience of a lifetime," says Wertz Chen.
The InSight mission is exceptional for another reason. Half of the members of the EDL team are women. "It happened in a very organic way," says Wertz Chen. "Everyone was trained for his skills, then someone said," Hey, there are as many women here as men. "
In 2016, only 15% of NASA's global missions were women, compared to an average of 5% by the year 2000. So InSight's more diverse team was a big step for NASA women. "It's great to be part of such a team," said geophysicist Sue Smrekar, assistant principal investigator for InSight. "There are more women in leadership roles. It's like we're moving in a positive direction. "
We are far from having the technology to send a crewed mission to Mars, which NASA began to explore via a robot in 1975. The InSight mission, lasting two years, is the first to focus on the inside of the planet. She uses a thermal probe and a seismometer 16 feet under the ground to study "Marsquakes" and collect data on the geological history of the planet. As far as we know about Mars, we still do not know what the planet's core looks like, what it's made of, how big it is, and whether it's still active. By including one of our closest planetary neighbors, scientists will be better informed about the formation of the inner solar system and the future of Earth in billions of years. This could also tell us how long Mars may have been habitable in the past and if it could still be today.
"Nobody did what we did before," says Farah Alibay, Systems Engineer. "My guidance counselor told me that I should not be an engineer because it was a male dominated field and I struggled," she says. Now, "I am the modern version of an explorer. I will work to make a robot work on Mars. "
PHOTO: At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, some of the women participating in the Mars Insight mission.
Back row, from left to right: Farah Alibay (Systems engineer), Emily Manor-Chapman (Systems engineer), Annick Sylvestre-Baron (Deputy Project Manager), Julie Wertz Chen (Systems engineer), Sarah Elizabeth McCandless (navigation engineer), Pauline Hwang (Mission Operations Manager) and Aline Zimmer (Systems engineer).
First row, from left to right: Sue Smrekar (Deputy Principal Investigator), Marleen Martinez Sundgaard (chief engineer of test bench), Brooke Harper (Systems engineer), Anne Marinan (Systems engineer), Ingrid Daubar (planetary scientist) with Arthur (Baby), Hallie Gengl (head of the image processing team), Jaime Singer (Systems engineer), Cinzia Fantinati (operating engineer), Cristina Sorice (robotics engineer), Elizabeth Barrett (responsible for instrument operations), Christine Szalai (Systems engineer) and Louise Thomas (operating engineer).