A NASA Engineer-Turned-Teacher Celebrates Sending the Curiosity Rover to Mars

Sept. 28, 2022
Wanda Harding reflects on the role she played in sending off the Curiosity Rover to Mars more than 10 years ago.

It has been just over 10 years since the NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on the Red Planet. Wanda Harding, who was part of that mission, continues to celebrate the mission’s success as it carries on the work of collecting and analyzing soil and rock samples before sending images back to Earth.

Harding, who teaches physical science to eighth graders, can draw from real-world experience in ways that few others can. The former NASA engineer and rocket scientist served as the senior mission manager in the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission with the Mars Curiosity Rover when it touched down on Mars on Aug. 1, 2012. Harding was the only woman of color on her team during the mission, and is a champion for women and people of color to pursue STEM careers.

If there’s one lesson Wanda Harding can relay to her students, then it is the value of teamwork. In this video (Part 1 of 3), Harding shares how she makes scientific endeavors relatable to her students. Lessons abound about coordinating work packages, leadership and special moments she experienced during her 20-year tenure as a systems engineer and as part of the International Space Station program team.

“The most important part for our team was, of course, the trajectory—to make sure that once we separated the spacecraft from the launch vehicle it would be on its right course to Mars,” explained Harding. “The team that I led as a mission manager with our launch services included mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers and electrical engineers. We had thermal analysts that were involved. Of course, those disciplines were responsible for the trajectory analysis… Now, one of the things that I stress with my students is the importance of teamwork. When you’re working with a team with a common mission, you have to appreciate the diversity of the talent.”

View Part 2: Mission to Mars: The Role of the Senior Mission Manager is to Make Tough Calls

View Part 3: What is This Retired NASA Engineer Doing Now?

Editor’s Note: Machine Design's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) hub compiles our coverage of gender representation issues affecting the engineering field, in addition to contributions from equity seeking groups and subject matter experts within various subdisciplines.

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