As the world watches the Mars rover Curiosity descend and land on the red planet tonight, Arcadian Edward Wong will be watching with more interest than most.
Wong, immediate past President of the Arcadia Chinese Association and current Arcadia Chamber of Commerce board member and head of the Chamber’s Asian Business Night committee, has been instrumental in the development and oversight of key elements of the Mars Science Laboratory project at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. He worked on MSL, which includes the Curiosity rover, for about five years, including the initial technology development program.
A key element of the landing is the Skycrane Landing System that deploys from the descending spacecraft to gently lower the rover to the surface of the Red Planet. Wong is one of the ten inventors of the United States Skycrane Design Patent.
The whole Mars landing takes about seven minutes, and so all the maneuvers have 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 Numerical Analysis in UCLA Extension School. In his spare time he and his wife Dorothy became so proficient in their dance classes that Edward is now volunteering to teach line dancing himself.
As for his work at JPL, in addition to having a vested interest in tonight’s descent and landing of the MSL rover and its subsequent mission, Wong is involved in a new project that is closer to home, an Earth mission measuring Soil Moisture.
– By Scott Hettrick