Keynote: Engineering the Red Planet


Day of the Week:

On August 5th 2012, NASA landed its most capable robotic geologist on the surface of the Red Planet. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission landed a 2000 lb rover, the size of a compact car, to explore the planes of Mars. The rover, aptly named Curiosity, will search for organic compounds, characterize the climate and geology, and continue the search for life. One of the most challenging aspects of the mission, from an engineering perspective, was safely landing the rover on the surface. The entry descent and landing (EDL) system used a heat shield to accommodate its hypersonic entry conditions, followed by a supersonic parachute, and eight retro rockets for the powered descent phase. For its final terminal descent, a maneuver called the sky crane was used where the rover was lowered on tethers for touchdown. The talk will describe the motivation for Mars Exploration and how the MSL EDL engineering challenges were tackled with computational modeling and cutting edge experimental techniques.

Speaker: Dr. Anita Sengupta

Research Professor @University of Southern California

Dr. Anita Sengupta has been developing spacecraft technologies enabling the exploration of Mars, Venus, and deep space for the past decade at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She started her career working on the Delta IV launch vehicle and communications satellites in the aerospace industry. After joining NASA JPL, she began her PhD research on improving the efficiency and lifetime of the ion thrusters that are now powering NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft, on its journey to Vesta and Ceres in the main asteroid belt. After that, she was responsible for the supersonic parachute system that was integral to the entry, descent, and landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on August 6th 2012. She is currently the Project and Mission Manager for the Cold Atom Laboratory, a laser cooling atomic physics facility to be launched to the International Space Station in August of 2017. Dr. Sengupta will talk about the motivation for Mars exploration and the challenges of landing on a planet over 500 million kilometers from Earth. She will share her personal experiences in space exploration and discus the importance of pursuing a career in science and technology. She received her MS (’00) and PhD (’05) is Aerospace engineering from USC where she is also a Research Associate professor in the Astronautics Department teaching undergraduate spacecraft design

Find Dr. Anita Sengupta at


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