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NASA Spotlight: Christina Hernandez, NASA Mars 2020 Rover Instrument Engineer“I was in love with…

NASA Spotlight: Christina Hernandez, NASA Mars 2020 Rover Instrument Engineer“I was in love with…

NASA Spotlight: Christina Hernandez, NASA Mars 2020 Rover Instrument Engineer

“I was in love with the beauty of space. It was my introduction to appreciating the beauty of complex, chaotic things—black holes, giant gas planets, or killer asteroids—that got my imagination riled up.“ -Christina Hernandez

Christina Hernandez, a space enthusiast and self-proclaimed nerd, is an aerospace engineer at our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where she works as an instrument engineer on our newest rover mission – Mars2020. The Mars2020 rover is a robotic scientist that is launching to the Red Planet next year. If you would like to launch to the Red Planet as well, you can Send Your Name to Mars along with millions of other people! Christina’s job is to make sure that the instruments we send to the Martian surface are designed, built, tested and operated correctly so we can retrieve allll the science. When she isn’t building space robots, she loves exploring new hiking trails, reading science fiction and experimenting in the kitchen. Christina took a break from building our next Martian scientist to answer some questions about her life and her career: 

If you could go to Mars, would you? And what are three things you’d bring with you?

Only if I had a round trip ticket! I like the tacos and beach here on Earth too much. If I could go, I would bring a bag of Hot Cheetos, a Metallica album, and the book On the Shoulders of Giants.

If you could name the Mars2020 rover, what would you name it and why?

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Pilas, a reference to a phrase my family says a lot, ponte las pilas. It literally means put your batteries on or in other words, get to work, look alive or put some energy into it. Our rover is going to need to have her batteries up and running for all the science she is going to be doing! Luckily, the rover has a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) to help keep the batteries charged!

What’s been your most memorable day at NASA?

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It’s been seeing three of the instruments I worked on getting bolted and connected to the flight rover. I’ll never forget seeing the first 1’s and 0’s being exchanged between the rover compute element (RCE), the rover’s on-board brain, and the instruments’ electronics boxes (their brains). I am sure it was a wonderful conversation between the two!

It’s a long journey to get from Earth to Mars. What would be on your ultimate road trip playlist?

Metallica, The Cure, Queen, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frank Sinatra, Ramon Ayala, AC/DC, Selena, Los Angeles Azules, ughhhh – I think I just need a Spotify subscription to Mars.

What is one piece of advice you wish someone would’ve told you?

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Take your ego out of the solution space when problem solving.

Do you have any secret skills, talents, or hobbies?

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I love reading. Each year I read a minimum of 20 books, with my goal this year being 30 books. It’s funny I increased my goal during what has definitely been my busiest year at work. I recently got into watercolor painting. After spending so much time connected at work, I started looking for more analog hobbies. I am a terrible painter right now, but I painted my first painting the other day. It was of two nebulas! It’s not too bad! I am hoping watercolor can help connect me more to the color complexities of nature…and it’s fun!

What’s a project or problem that you would love the ability to tackle/work on?

I would love to work on designs for planetary human explorers. So far, I have focused on robotic explore, but when you throw a “loveable, warm, squishy thing” into the loop, its creates a different dimension to design – both with respect to operability and risk.

Thanks so much Christina! The Mars2020 rover is planned to launch on July 17, 2020, and touch down in Jezero crater on Mars on February 18, 2021.

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