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SLU grad key figure in Thursday's Mars mission launch

SLU grad key figure in Thursday's Mars mission launch

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When NASA launched its spacecraft to Mars shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, one of the hands guiding the tiller belonged to a former St. Louis University student.

SLU graduate Fernando Abilleira, who works for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the deputy mission manager in charge of design and navigation.

Fernando Abilleira

St. Louis University graduate Fernando Abilleira, a deputy manager of the Mars InSight Lander mission. (NASA JPL/Caltech)

Abilleira earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering in 1999 from SLU's Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, and then a master's degree from there in the same field in 2001. He went to work for NASA in 2004.

Originally from Madrid, Abilleira met his future wife, Sarah Hubbard of Bonne Terre, while both were attending the midtown university.

During the Mars mission, Abilleira will be manning the main console at mission control.

Once the spacecraft lands on Mars in February, NASA officials said it will deploy a robotic rover known as "Perseverance." The rover is equipped to find evidence of ancient microbiotic life on Mars.

The rover will examine an area known as Jezero Crater, once a lake and hopefully a repository for remnants of microbiological life that might have existed there, NASA said.

In addition to numerous cameras and environmental sensors, the rover also is equipped with microphones, which NASA said will provide sounds from another surface other than earth for the first time in history.

The spacecraft launch can be seen on a 16-minute YouTube video ("Launch of NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover"). Lift-off is at the 3:12 mark.

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