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Cal Poly alumni, students play key roles in recent space exploration missions

NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to Mars in the early 2020’s. I n the process, a number of Cal Poly grads and current engineering students continue playing key roles in U.S space exploration.

Former Mustang Tim Weise works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and oversaw Mars InSight operations.

“The InSight mission is the first mission to really study the interior of Mars,” the deputy mission manager said. ” We can compare it to the interior of Earth and that’ll help us understand how planets generally have formed in the solar system.”

The robotic lander touched down in Mars on November 26.

“It was an amazing sense of relief and accomplishment,” Weise recalled.

InSight launched from Vandenberg Air Force base on May 5, along with two mini satellites that were tested at Cal Poly.

“There was a lot of Cal Poly involvement,” Weise said.

“It’s really great to see where all our students end up,” aerospace engineering assistant professor, Amelia Greig shared.

Like Weise, fellow Cal Poly alumni are making a name for themselves when it comes to U.S space exploration. Tory Bruno is the CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), which will send astronauts in space. V ictor Glover is a NASA astronaut who will be traveling out of this world with Space X in 2019.

But even rocket scientist gotta start somewhere.

“We get the students involved with building, launching and operating satellites right from day one,” Greig explained.

At the PolySat lab, aerospace engineering students like Grigory Heaton have found their calling.

“Being part of this lab is definitely the best thing I’ve done at Cal Poly,” Heaton confessed.

The Cal Poly senior and his lab peers assemble space crafts and monitor them in space. One of their satellites, DAVE (Damping And Vibrations Experiment), was just launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in September.

“We have the antennas here to actually operate the satellites ourselves,” Heaton said.

“Every time we do a flight we make three satellites, essentially,” Greig explained. “The first one is the flat sat…so it’s easy access to all the components. Then [we build] an engineering model. So this is identical to the flight unit but it stays here in the lab for troubleshooting. And then we build the actual flight model which is the one that goes into space.”

All that can take two to three years….or ten.

But Greig says it’s a good thing the students have patience –and Cal Poly alumni role models.

“It’s great for our students to be able to look up to them and be like, that could be me,” she said.

Who knows, maybe the next Cal Poly aerospace engineering graduate will one day make it to Mars.

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