I have been working space missions at JPL since I arrived in the early 1980s right out of Caltech. After a decade or so building spacecraft avionics and software, I transitioned to guidance and control and systems design of interplanetary missions. My "lucky break" occurred when Brian Muirhead hired me as Chief Engineer for Mars Pathfinder in the early 1990s. Soon I took a big left turn and volunteered to lead Pathfinder's Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) team. From then on, I was hooked. The Mars EDL problem was so hard and required so many disciplines and human talent that I found it to be the best engineering problem I could find in my career. I also found Mars exploration itself to be very exciting. From then on I have been deeply involved in in the technical design of nearly every US Mars mission that has occurred during the Mars Renaissance of the past 20 years.
Landing on Mars is hard, and the bigger you are, the harder it gets. Rob Manning returns to tell us about one of NASA’s best hopes for getting much bigger spacecraft down there—spacecraft that may one day carry humans.