For three months, Keri Bean lived on Mars time. As part of the historical NASA team that successfully landed the $2.6 billion rover Curiosity on Mars’ surface, the Texas A&M graduate student rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most distinguished planetary scientists and technicians.
Curiosity’s landing on Mars on Aug. 13, 2012, is well documented on YouTube and elsewhere. But to be a part of the “seven minutes of terror” as it was called, was especially meaningful to Bean, an atmospheric sciences master’s student who has been part of Mars missions since 2008.
“About 10 minutes before landing, the room hushed and everyone focused on the screens. People were holding hands and pacing around,” Bean said. “When they announced touchdown, the room erupted in cheers and shouts. After about an hour, we moved into our operations building and planned our first day on Mars. I was up for over 24 hours that day, but I didn't even notice with the rush of landing.”
Bean is a student of Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric sciences professor in the College of Geosciences. Lemmon has been on several Mars rover teams and was a science team co-investigator for this mission. Bean spent most of August and her fall semester at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., on the team that operated Curiosity. Her roles on the Mars rover team included environmental theme lead, Keeper of the Plan (KOP), and Mastcam Payload Uplink Lead (PUL). As environmental team lead, she was in charge of a group of scientists who recorded atmospheric observations, determined the basic idea for photos to be taken by the rover and the movements it should make, and put observational ideas into a plan. Through her work as KOP and Mastcam PUL, Bean was able to translate scientists’ observations into code to be sent to the rover.
Lemmon has worked on imaging teams for missions to Mars, on Opportunity and Spirit missions, as well as the Cassini probe that landed on Saturn’s moon Titan. Bean’s first spacecraft operation was with the Phoenix Mars Lander in the summer of 2008.
“It (the opportunity to work with the Mars rover team) was just a matter of being confident in my abilities and not being afraid of asking and talking to people,” Bean said.
Bean said her favorite part of the trip was the welcoming environment.
“It didn’t matter if you were an undergraduate student or a professor with tenure, everyone’s opinions were respected and listened to,” Bean said.
Bean also said it was neat to be a part of pop culture as she had the opportunity to hang out with several Hollywood celebrities including “Mohawk Guy,” Bobak Ferdowsi, whose changing hair colors and styles went viral on Twitter and YouTube.
“I didn’t crush on Mohawk Guy since I’m happily married,” Bean said, referring to the numerous e-mail proposals that Ferdowsi received. “However, I did get to work with Bobak a couple of times.”
Bean said working with the time difference between Earth and Mars was difficult to adjust to at first, but is something she now misses.
“I got to meet and work with so many amazing people,” Bean said. “I made a lot of friends and professional connections. One of my favorite things about the mission is how many amazing women were a part of it. I got to meet so many fantastic ladies who I can look up to as role models.”
To keep up with news and the current status of the Mars rover, Curiosity, follow Bean at https://twitter.com/kerionmars.
Eliana Mijangos '14
March 20, 2013