NEW YORK – Elio Morillo analyzes each week the data sent by a robot almost 480 million kilometers from Earth. The four-wheeled robot will soon collect rock and sediment samples from Mars, report on the red planet’s climate, and pave the way for future human exploration.
The images that the small rover, called Perseverance, has taken on that planet have amazed half the world and brought many closer to discovering a place that generates fascination.
“Obviously, it has been very exciting to see all those color images, the videos of the descent to Mars, which is completely new, it has never been seen, in such detail, as we were able to record it on this mission. And we also have a microphone to listen to. that is happening while the robot is moving, “Morillo, an engineer born in Ecuador and raised in Puerto Rico who has spent five years dedicated to Mars in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. .
The Hispanic is also enjoying another achievement: On Monday, Ingenuity, a small experimental helicopter that was inside the Perseverance, made the first flight ever achieved on another planet. Morillo does software integration testing and is an operations engineer for Perseverance and Ingenuity.
“I don’t believe it yet,” the expert said excitedly, after Ingenuity rose about ten feet for 39 seconds. The little jump was big news in the media around the world.
Morillo lives in Los Angeles and works on the test bed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
It is dedicated to receiving information from the robot, which informs it of the coordinates and its status. From this information, sequences and instructions are built that are sent to Perseverance so that it acts autonomously. His job sometimes involves starting work in the middle of the night: Morillo says he has to gather information at particular times to send footage in the morning.
It took Perseverance seven months to get to Mars. In July 2020 Morillo traveled to Florida to witness the launch of the robot into space.
“It was incredible to be able to share that moment with my mother,” said the 27-year-old engineer, whose Ecuadorian mother lives in Florida, as does his older brother. Morillo’s father is also Ecuadorian.
The landing, or “landing” as Morillo calls it, of Perseverance on Mars occurred this past February.
The expert lived in Ecuador until he was 4 years old. Economic conditions in the country forced the family to go to New York in 1997, and from there, to Caguas, Puerto Rico, to return to New York as a teenager. The Hispanic, who was always interested in science, went to the University of Michigan, where he studied mechanical engineering.
He has been working at NASA since 2016 and ensures that the space industry is expanding every year more and more, although the number of Hispanics who work in the space agency are few. For now, he claims to feel honored to contribute to the science and architecture necessary for a possible human presence on Mars. In fact, he would like to be an astronaut.
“Only to the Moon because I don’t dare to Mars,” Morillo said, laughing. “That’s what I make robots for.”