Fil-Am engineer helps land NASA rover on Mars


Among those responsible for the successful landing of the National Aeronautic Space Association (NASA) Perseverance rover on Mars is Filipino-American engineer Gregorio Villar III, according to the United States Embassy in Manila.

Villar is an Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and was instrumental as the head verification and validation engineer for the rover’s EDL phase.

His agency profile revealed that it took him seven and a half years to design, build and test a system that would be able to land a car-sized rover on the red planet.

For the Mars 2020 mission, he headed a council of the atmospheric scientists from all over the world tasked to characterize the foreign atmosphere.

Villar studied at the St. Louis University-Laboratory High School in Baguio, and later earned a degree in physics at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. He worked for his master’s degree in astronautical engineering from the University of South California.

The engineer was awarded a NASA scholarship in his third year of college as well as an internship of his choice at NASA. He said that he was fueled by the “thought of going there” himself one day.

Perseverance, called the “largest, most advanced” rover NASA has ever delivered outside Earth, launched in June 2020 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

Just last month, after seven months of travel, it had finally touched down on Mars’ Jezero Crater, completing the crucial first step in the goal of collecting samples. The mission aimed to examine rock and sediment of the crater’s ancient lakebed and river delta and from there deduce its geology and past climate, an undertaking that would take two years.

A key goal of the mission is to determine its astrobiology and look for signs of ancient microbial life.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration, globally—when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said Acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk.

Scientists believe that Jezero Crater “had its own river delta and was filled with water” billions of years ago.

Associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said, “Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental—including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”

Photo: CNN Philippines

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