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February 28, 2011 Vol. 4, Issue 2


Rob Manning of JPL and Rudi Schmidt of the European Space Agency (ESA) discussed the allure and challenges of Mars with Academy Director Ed Hoffman in Masters with Masters 7.

Mars has long held a compelling grip on the human imagination while proving a challenging destination for those who have attempted to explore it.

The seventh Masters with Masters brought together two longtime veterans of Mars missions to share their perspectives and stories in a special event held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Dr. Rudolf (Rudi) Schmidt, currently head of ESA’s Telecommunications Satellite Programs Department, was previously project manager for several projects in ESA’s Directorate of Science and Robotics Exploration, including Mars Express, Venus Express, and Gaia. Rob Manning is the Mars Exploration Program chief engineer at JPL as well as the chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. He previously led the spacecraft systems engineering team for the 2004 Mars Exploration Rover project and served as the chief engineer for the 1997 Mars Pathfinder.

Both emphasized the need to remain open-minded in the face of the tremendous technical challenges posed by Mars missions. “You have to be willing to learn,” said Manning. “If you find information that tells you that your assumptions are wrong, don’t hold on to your old assumptions. Throw them all away, learn the new ones, and go forward. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I was wrong.'”

“Quite often, (what seemed like) a really stupid idea turned out to benefit (the project) one way or another,” said Schmidt. “But it doesn’t make your life easy.”

Schmidt and Manning also agreed about the need for a balance between engineering skepticism and a positive attitude. “You need optimism,” said Manning, “but it’s a difficult balancing act. If you’re too pessimistic, you won’t convince anyone except your own team.”

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