After heading from Earth to Mars for seven months, another robotic visitor—Perseverance—successfully landed on the red planet, and a Filipino-American engineer from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration played a key role.
“When you think of operating something, you think of the control room. Once again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of people and rooms involved,” NASA Engineer Gregorio Villar III said way back in 2016 during the “Moving the Joystick: What it really takes to operate a rover on Mars” held in the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Villar has been the Entry Descent Landing Systems Engineer of the Mars 2020 Mission and Operations Systems Engineer of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Mars 2020 contains the Perseverance Rover, which was launched from Earth on July 30 and landed safely on the Red Planet on February 18. The mission is searching for signs of future life and gathering samples of broken rock and soil.
He spent seven and a half years designing and testing a device that would drop a car-size rover on Mars.
Working with NASA JPL for more than ten years now, Villar heads the verification and validation engineer for the entry, descent, and landing process of the project.
During his tenure at NASA JPL, he also led a parachute test program in the world’s largest wind tunnel, as well as a council of atmospheric scientists to research the Martian atmosphere.
Villar graduated from Saint Louis University-Laboratory High School in Baguio City.
He continued his studies at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, where he received a Bachelor of Physics degree. Villar earned a Ph.D. in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California.