DailyBreeze: Redondo Beach flight director to guide Mars rover’s surface movements

Douglas Morino
08/09/2012

Redondo Beach flight director to guide Mars rover's surface movements - Keith Comeaux - Daily Breeze - Jim Caldwell - Redondo Beach

Inside the mission control room at the La Canada Flintridge campus of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, teams of engineers watched as the Mars rover Curiosity began its tricky descent to the mysterious Red Planet.

They weren’t alone.

A large crowd had gathered in Times Square in New York City, staying up late to witness the rover’s descent on a large video screen. Millions more logged on to the Internet to watch streaming live feeds, jamming NASA and JPL sites and temporarily shutting them down.

As the rover approached its target – a crater near the base of an 18,000-foot mountain – the 40 JPL engineers monitored the 14-minute delayed feed tracking the progress. Each phase of the dramatic, heart-pounding descent was met with subdued applause.

Michael Malin, principal investigator, MastCamera on MSL, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, left, talks next to Dawn Sumner, MSL science team member, University of Calif., Davis, and Andy Mishkin, Integratedplanning and execution team chief, JPL, about a low-resolution panoramic image of Mars, background, during an update news conference on Curiosity Mars Rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (The Associated Press)

Among those watching in the mission control room was Flight Director Keith Comeaux, a Redondo Beach resident who has been with the Curiosity project for six years.

“When things were happening as they should, there was nervous clapping,” Comeaux said. “Everyone knew it wasn’t going to be over until we were on the ground.”

Once Curiosity’s landing was confirmed, the room erupted. Photos splashed across the front pages of nearly every major American newspaper showed engineers smiling, hugging and thrusting their arms in the air. The headlines declared: Wheels down on Mars.

“My emotions took over at that point,” Comeaux said, recalling the anticipation during the descent and the moment Curiosity landed. “It was the release of a whole lot of tension and hard work over six years.”

Read more at the DailyBreeze.com…

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Jim Caldwell
Redondo Beach

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About jw60sea

Jim Caldwell has over 26 years of experience in the public safety sector in occupations ranging from professional ski patrol, and ocean lifeguard to firefighter. Jim has worked for the Redondo Beach Fire Department for the last 22 years holding successively higher positions of responsibility. For the last six years, Jim has held the rank of Engineer with responsibility for driving and operating the Department’s Engines and Tillered Aerial Ladder Truck. Throughout his career, he has shown a dedication not only to public safety but also community service.
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