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Meet the engineer behind NASA’s robotic arm for Mars

Meet the engineer behind NASA’s robotic arm for Mars

Standing at the porch of his house in Ghana, as a young boy, Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu was fascinated by the planes that flew in and out of the airport. But his dreams were not to be a pilot, his imagination was more unique than that.He envisioned a future where robots would fly the planes. “I was fascinated by replacing human pilots with computers. I was very interested in that as a young kid.”

Many years after, the young dreamer has surpassed his imagination. He is now a lead engineer on InSight – NASA’s spacecraft which recently landed on Mars. He is in charge of the mission’s robotic arm mechanism.

What does the robotic arm do?

The goal of InSight is to understand how planets are formed. But to do so, there is need to look deep beneath the surface. “You have to look at the core of the planet,” says Ollennu, Instrument Deployment Systems Lead on InSight.InSight’s robotic arm will place scientific instruments off the InSight lander onto the surface. “Our responsibility is to pick up the instruments that the scientists are going to use to examine the planets hundreds of millions of miles away,” Ollennu said.

Photo: CNN / The pyramid of gaza captured from the air by NASA

The arm, more than 5 feet 9 inches (1.8 meters) long, has a camera attached that will provide 3D color views of the landing site. It is designed to place the seismometer on the surface and position the heat flow probe – a mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the ground.It will take two to three months for InSight’s robotic arm to set the mission’s instrument on the surface.

“This is my fifth mission landing on mars that we are working on. I’ve been working on Mars for like 20 years now,” he says.

Photo: Pulse Ghana / Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu at a conference by Ghana Robotics Academy

His former projects on Mars includes: the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Lander of 2007, Mars Science Laboratory in 2011, and the 2016 Insight Mars Lander.Ollennu has obtained numerous awards and recognition for his works. Some of which includes the 2008 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and the 2010 Specialist Silver Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK.

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