PASADENA, Calif. - 30 November 11
Hallie Gengl: ASU Intern Maps Future Mars Landing Sites
By: Heather L. Ogletree
On the day after Thanksgiving, the day known as "Black Friday," when shoppers rush the malls in search of bargains, something spectacular was happening. NASA was in preparations to launch Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft which contains the latest Mars rover. At 10:02 a.m. on Saturday, Curiosity began its 8 month journey to Mars.
Just this summer, Hallie Gengl, a senior at Arizona State University, came to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., to intern through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) with Dr. Matthew Golombek where she worked on a project related to missions like this – Gengl was given the opportunity to map and help determine potential landing sites for a possible future rover that could look similar to Curiosity.
According to Dr. Golombek, it was Gengl’s responsibility to characterize the geology and safety of future candidate landing sites for a possible future rover being considered by NASA. He said, “Safety issues focus on the quantification of slopes of concern for landing safely in potential landing sites using MOLA data and digital elevation models.” MOLA, the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, surveyed the surface of Mars to bring back global altimetry data. Gengl also looked at data from the last rover to return from space, Opportunity.
“Working with the Mars Exploration Program at JPL meant I was exposed to data for multiple Mars missions that we were doing research for,” Gengl explained. “With Opportunity on the ground reporting back new information every day, as well as the multiple orbiters, we are able to learn something new every day.”
At JPL, Gengl not only learned something new about Mars each day, but she was also making real contributions to future missions. She stated, “Landing site analysis is obviously very important for every lander and rover sent to Mars. It was exciting being a part of the team that makes sure that landing in proposed ellipses was possible.” In particular, her preliminary landing site analysis helps to ensure the safety of the possible future MSL-like missions. “I did this project independently under the supervision of my mentor and it allowed me to expand my technical and research abilities as well as my problem solving skills.”
Gengl realized that she wanted to work in STEM when her mother took her to JPL’s Annual Community Open House in high school. She said, “I was excelling in math and science and really enjoyed these classes the most, but hadn’t yet seriously considered a career in either. After my first visit to JPL, I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up.’ Although I had some preconceived notions about what I would see there, I was surprised and relieved that so many women were working there in all kinds of positions.”
After completing her degree at ASU, Gengl plans to pursue her masters in planetary science while continuing her research on NASA planetary missions. Of her time working on future Mars landing sites, she commented, “Working at JPL this summer...has been a great addition to what I have learned so far at my job at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Office and at school. I was really blessed that I was able to work with Dr. Matt Golombek and Dr. Fred Calef since they were so willing to support this internship, providing me with great learning opportunities and a great work environment.”