Tech student helps land mars rover

Photo courtesy of Breanna Ivey

On Feb. 18, the world watched as NASA’s Perseverance Rover successfully landed on Mars, a mission made possible by a current Tech student.

Breanna Ivey, EE ’21, interned in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory last summer where she worked on the rover’s mobility team. Ivey’s job concerned ensuring the rover properly converted inputs to reach the correct destination on the red planet.

The Perseverance Rover is the fifth rover to be sent to Mars by NASA. The main goals of this rover’s stay is to better understand the geology of Mars and to look for former signs of life on the planet.

Perseverance will also collect rock and soil samples that could potentially be sent back to Earth in the future. The rover boasts improved navigability tools, which Ivey helped to test.

The Perseverance Rover is able to travel autonomously to a given destination on Mars. During her internship, Ivey’s job was to make sure the rover did the correct calculations to accurately reach that location.

She said this task required a lot of math, coding and simulations on her part to test the rover’s capabilities and get it ready for movement on Mars.

“It’s very surreal, and I don’t think I understood the impact of what I was doing while I was doing it,” Ivey said on her involvement in the project. “At the end, hopefully I contributed something, but watching the live landing and knowing I was a part, even if my role was small, of something like that is still surreal,” Ivey said about her work being on another planet.

Unfortunately, Ivey was not able to do anything special for the landing because of a test she had near Feb. 18, but she contacted her mentor about the event.

She also tuned into the live landing of the rover and was both excited and stressed about the event.

“The people in the control room were mainly listing off all the things that could go wrong,” Ivey said. “They didn’t start talking about the things that could go right until they already went right.”

Nevertheless, the rover persevered and landed successfully in Mars’ Jezero Crater.

In a similar way during her internship, Ivey persisted for her own success: participating on a project in an often white and male dominated field.

“When I was younger and I knew I wanted to build things, that’s all I knew. I didn’t know what that meant in terms of a job because I didn’t see anybody look like me doing the things that I thought were interesting,” Ivey said to 13WMAZ in July.

Recently, she expanded on how she has succeeded in STEM even without knowing many other Black women in these fields.

“It’s difficult to be in STEM in general, but being a woman and being a black woman adds extra layers of obstacles,” Ivey said.

“Throughout my journey at Tech, I have learned (and am still learning) to speak up and be myself, fully in academic spaces,” Ivey said.

She hopes her story can inspire other Black and brown girls to follow their dreams and know they belong in STEM fields, according to 13WMAZ.

With her NASA internship under her belt, Ivey is looking forward to an internship this summer in the healthcare device field but says she would not mind going back to the Jet Propulsion Lab and the amazing experience she had there.

“I’m interested in trying out a few different things before I set my mind on one path,” Ivey said.

Ivey is set to graduate from the Institute next fall with a bachelors of science degree in electrical engineering.

She looks forward to whatever experiences follow her astronomical contributions.