Filipino engineer who studied in Baguio helped land Perseverance on Mars
A Filipino engineer raised in Baguio was part of the team who ensured that the Perseverance rover made a safe landing on Mars on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Gregorio Villar was named by the United States Embassy in the Philippines as a Filipino who contributed to the historical Mars landing, as per a tweet on Friday, Feb. 19.
Villar works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and is an entry, descent and landing (EDL) systems engineer. The JPL manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission.
He has spent the past 7.5 years ensuring that the Perseverance would land safely by building and testing a system that could land a rover on Mars, according to the NASA website.
Villar, however, is not the only Filipino in the Perseverance team that consists of top scientists and engineers, he said in an interview with Teleradyo on Friday, Feb. 19.
Both Villar’s parents are Filipino, and though he was born in the U.S., he spent some of his teen years being raised in Baguio, he said in the interview. In high school at Saint Louis University in Baguio, he already showed a high aptitude for math and science, joining competitions to represent his school. He credits his high school education for his foundation in physics and math.
The engineer took up physics at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and got an internship at NASA when he was in his junior year in college. Two years later, in 2012, he got hired to work full time at the JPL. He told Teleradyo that he was 23 when he worked on the Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in August 2012.
Getting the rover to land after 203 days in space was nerve-racking, he recalled. Villar said that the entry, descent and landing is called the “7 minutes of terror.”
After the rover hits the atmosphere of Mars, it slows down due to friction, and the team has to release a large parachute called the supersonic parachute which is ejected faster than the speed of sound.
“After that, we separate the heat shield that covers the spacecraft. The Rover comes down on rockets; it has its own jet pack,” he explained. “The jet pack lowers the Rover, it separates the Rover on its cables. It safely touches the ground, then the jet pack flies away.”
According to his NASA profile, being an astronaut is his childhood dream, and movies such as “Armageddon” and “Apollo 13” inspired him to explore space and science. Though he got the Perseverance on Mars, he still hopes to get to the red planet himself one day.
The main goal of Perseverance is to do astrobiology research, which includes finding ancient microbial life. JB
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