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Alum Shares Role on Successful Mars Landing

Scot Stride Discusses NASA-JPL Career, Education and the Curiosity Rover

March 11, 2013

When NASA's Curiosity rover landed on the Red Planet last August, alumnus and Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Scot Stride was at home — with the TV off.

He couldn't bear the news if the rover's landing had failed. After all, he was part of NASA's team responsible for the rover's picture-perfect descent onto Mars.

"I was very nervous about the landing," admitted Stride, JPL senior spacecraft telecommunications engineer. "I was so relieved to awake Monday morning and hear that Curiosity had a perfect landing. Despite all the time it took to complete the mission, there was always a possibility it wouldn't work. I was extremely happy."

In 2006, Stride started his work on the Mars rover radar, part of the JPL Mars Science Laboratory project begun in 2003. His role was to help build, test and deliver the radio frequency modules, which made it possible for the rover to land on Mars' surface.

Stride, who earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 2002, recently discussed his work during a College of Engineering and Computer Science spring Technology Breakfast attended by students, faculty and industry leaders.

The Curiosity rover faced many challenges, such as design issues, delays and a price tag of nearly $2.5 billion, Stride said. The pressure for engineers and others to succeed was high: "This was the hardest mission we had ever done at JPL; it involved so many people. Our reputation was at stake."

Stride, who works on spaceflight and telecommunications hardware, including flight telecommunications and radar hardware, told student engineers that one of the best ways to prepare for the workplace is to be mentally on guard for making mistakes. "When things go wrong, and they will, you get over the crisis, fix it and move on."

While the Curiosity rover is an exciting and historic project, Stride noted that the highlight of his career was the Mars Pathfinder, an American spacecraft that landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars in 1997. He started work on the project in 1992 and remained involved to the end. His current project is a satellite, set to launch in fall 2014, that features ground-penetrating radar to measure soil moisture content to provide flood prediction and drought-monitoring capabilities.

The Covina resident earned an associate's degree in electronics communication from Mt. San Antonio College in 1982, the same year he landed a job at JPL. Three years later, he went to work at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, but knew he needed more education to advance in his field.

In 1986, he enrolled at CSUF to earn his bachelor's degree — a process that took more than a decade to complete. He took day and evening courses, even summer classes, while working and raising a family. In 1991, he was laid off from Hughes and was "fortunately able to return to JPL," where he was told that he needed his bachelor's degree for career advancement.

Stride is quick to add that his success and tenure at NASA would not be possible without his degree: "I enjoy my job. Everyday it's something different. It's a field that is very gratifying, and if I didn't have my engineering degree, there is no way I'd be where I'm at today in my career."

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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