NASA's Perseverance rover roams Mars with Taiwanese at controls

Jeng Yen graduated from National Tsing Hua University before heading to US

NASA Mars rover specialist Jeng Yen (Jeng Yen photo) 

NASA Mars rover specialist Jeng Yen (Jeng Yen photo) 

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — When NASA’s Perseverance rover rides around the planet Mars, a Taiwanese robot expert will be at the steering wheel, reports said Saturday (Feb. 20).

Jeng Yen (嚴正) has been involved in Mars-related robot work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for almost two decades. But he first studied mathematics at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.

Over the next three months, Yen’s Robot Interfaces and Visualization team will start work at the beginning of each Martian night. At dawn, they will send their programs over to the planet so the rover can begin work, he told CNA in an interview Saturday. Due to time differences, the team’s working hours will keep changing, moving from daytime in the U.S. to overnight and back.

As for the vehicle, it is unable to function at night because of the extreme temperatures, with the mercury plunging to minus 80 degrees Celsius, Yen said. As signals need half an hour to reach the planet and return, every task needs careful planning.

Asked what the rover would do if it finds life on Mars, Yen replied, “It should quickly take a picture." He added that all precautions have been taken not to leave any trace of a human presence on the planet after the visit by Perseverance.

Looking toward the future, young children today should see humans landing on Mars within their lifetime, he estimated. Present-day technology is already able to send travelers to the planet, but the main sticking point is the cost, several hundred times more than the US$2.7 billion spent on the Perseverance project, Yen said.

Updated : 2021-04-19 05:14 GMT+08:00