Diana Trujillo | The 2021 MAKERS Conference

Tactical Flight Director for Mars Perseverance gives MAKERS special insight into her personal experience with the recent historic rover landing.

Video Transcript

DIANA TRUJILLO: Hi, thank you so much for having me here again. It's an incredible honor to be part of the makers once again. Today-- last time that we actually recorded that video and got together, I had the honor to give kind of a briefing of my story. I was actually on my first mission to Mars. And since then, I have had the pleasure to have been part of another mission to Mars that is currently today on the surface of Mars doing exploration.

So before I go into more detail on the mission and give you more insights into what we have been doing, why don't we take a look at the video of our wonderful day?

- We have started our constant velocity accordion, which means we are conducting the skycrane-- about to conduct the skycrane maneuver. Skycrane maneuver has started. About 20 meters off the surface.

- We're getting signals from MRO.

- Tango, Delta.

- Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.

DIANA TRUJILLO: Touchdown confirmed, those were the words that we heard on February 18, at 12:55:27. For me it was [SPEAKING SPANISH] I had the pleasure to actually have been on camera when this was happening. I was conducting and hosting the first ever NASA Spanish landing that we had done for an interplanetary mission. And, of course, we could not be more excited to have been on that room, to have been on that moment, to have experienced that absolute joy of knowing that we had done something incredible on that day.

But, you know, there's a lot of things that happened on that day. One of those things was that right after we arrived on Mars, we got the first picture. And this is the first pictures that we saw as soon as we arrived to Mars. I was actually personally expecting that picture to come in a little bit later, but it didn't. It came in so soon.

And this is one of my favorite pictures, not only because it's the first one that we got, but also the fact that this picture represents that we are [? safe ?] on Mars. That all of that hard work that we have been doing together paid off. That we didn't miss anything. That everything that we had in mind that we needed to cross-check, all the testing that we needed to do was done. And here's one more thing that is mind blowing to me, is to know that nobody else before us had been on this specific area of Mars, that we were the first ones to be in this site on Mars. That those rocks that you see on those images are the first time that somebody has ever seen it, that nobody has ever in the past, in the history of humanity, have seen those same rocks that you see in this image.

I know it sounds insane. And it's only just a rock, but at the same time, when I put it in that context, knowing that we are there, that humans have now arrived to that area where nobody has been before is just mind-blowing to me. And it is an incredible honor to be part of that team.

And now, after having done that, we were now ready. We knew we were ready. Incredible, incredible amount of work to get to that surface of Mars, to get from 20,000 kilometers per hour to 0, and do it in such a great fashion as you saw on that video with retro rockets, with a skycrane, and not missing the mark of where we were going to land.

And then, now we were in Jezero Crater, which is the image that you see here. We were ready. We are ready to continue to explore it. And we are looking forward to know more about what happened to the Jezero Crater. But, you know, it wasn't-- it wasn't-- everything wasn't perfect all the time.

The name of our mission is Mars Perseverance. And it couldn't be any better name for this mission, Perseverance, because it certainly took a lot of the team perseverance and effort to get through it. It wasn't always easy. We started in the middle of the pandemic. At the time when the pandemic got worse last year, it was the time where we actually were in the middle of finishing up building the Rover. And, in fact, it was just at the time where we were about to ship it to Cape Canaveral in Florida to start doing integration with the launch vehicle.

So we were, of course, very concerned, but we kept going. And we kept going and that did not stop us. We were able to, actually, on July 30, 2021 at 4:50 AM, we launched Perseverance on time. And we-- I was here in Los Angeles because I couldn't actually fly to Florida due to COVID, and the team was split.

Of course, we didn't feel like it would have felt when we did it with Curiosity and when we were all there. I, myself, was there when Curiosity launched. But this go around, we had persevered through the pandemic in that specific instant of history and gotten into that launch vehicle.

But, again, we kept going. Things were not easy. We came out of the launch vehicle. And as we were coming out of the launch vehicle, we had two issues right after the fairing opens and you come out. The first two issues that we experienced were the fact that we couldn't actually communicate well with the spacecraft. We came out, but because we were so close to Earth at that instant, we were saturating the communication system on Earth and we couldn't actually process the data well.

But it didn't take too much for the team to actually get on it and keep going and try their best to figure out what the issue was and they lock into telemetry. But then after that, the Perseverance mission itself goes behind Earth, unlike Curiosity, it goes behind Earth on the dark side of Earth and then goes back out towards Mars. When we went behind it, because we were covering-- because it was shadows and there was no sun for us, we actually [? hit ?] an alarm, a thermal alarm, with the spacecraft.

When we [? hit ?] the thermal alarm with the spacecraft, the spacecraft went into a mode that's called safe mode where the spacecraft says, well, there's something going on wrong, I'm going to put myself into safe mode, which as the name says, it is safe for the spacecraft. It knows what to do. But still, that was just coming out of the launch vehicle. We were already facing some challenges.

But this was the Perseverance team. So we were not going to give up. And, of course, we figured out what to do and we recovered the spacecraft. After that, we had a long journey, a long journey between Earth to Mars in where we approximately went 470 million kilometers. We traveled for 170 million kilometers and then started to touch the surface of the atmosphere of Mars where we turn into a ball of fire and we go super fast.

And when I mean super fast, like I mentioned earlier, 20,000 kilometers per hour. We go through it. And you need to hit 0 to make sure that you land exactly where you need to land. What was incredible was not only that we were coming out with retro rockets and holding a-- a mini size car. So it's a car of a size of a Mini.

But what was also interesting is it's not just that, is that it has nuclear power. It has laser beam eye. It has a ginormous arm. It carries the most complicated mechanical system that we have ever flown to another planet to collect a sample. It carries a instrument that creates oxygen on the surface of Mars, and then it also carries, for the first time, a helicopter.

So there were a lot of firsts that we were going through in this mission and that we continue to go through in this mission. And so after we actually had landed, we landed on that perfect spot. So what I mean with that is 20,000 kilometers per hour, go down to 0, and our landing ellipse was approximately 6 meters by-- sorry, excuse me-- yeah, 6 meters by 7 meters of the area where we actually landed, which is insane to know that that is the unit that we're talking about when we're coming out of Earth.

And so now, after that, there were a lot of other firsts for us. First, we began by doing all the deployments. And it's a series of firsts that I, myself, cannot believe that we have done so many things so fast back to back. So the first thing that we then end up doing was we deploy the head of the rover and we took our first panorama, which is what you see here. First panorama of the area where we were on Mars.

And then after that, we got ready for our first drive. So you can see in this image the tracks of the rover after we had done our first drive. And then after that, we did our first touch with the robotic arm, which I've worked on. So it's very dear to me. We touched the surface of Mars for the first time on that image.

And if that wasn't enough, then we proceed to do-- the first time we deployed a helicopter on the surface of another planet. This is a picture of two of the legs of the helicopter coming down. I love this picture because it makes me think about some version of Spider-man as he's trying to climb out of some building. But yeah, so this is the helicopter.

And then after that we just did our first flight. Our first flight in another planet. Something that we had never tried before, and something that is an incredible achievement for humanity, because it makes me actually think about everything that we have done together.

Seeing the helicopter fly on the surface on another planet, taking off from the surface of Mars, going vertically and coming back down, makes me reflect on everything that we as humans have done. It makes me think about what happened in 1903 with the Wright brothers with their first flight. It makes me think about all of the things that we together have achieved and all of the things that for many, many years we have done in our home planet and how many things we have learned.

And thanks to all of that, we have been able to actually use all of that knowledge and now take it to another planet and continue to explore. All of that, thank you to all the ingenuity and understanding and creativity that planet Earth has, because we don't give up, because we keep going. Thank you so much.