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NASA's "Perseverance" team led by women and minority scientists

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NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover mission was led by a diverse group of scientists, many of them women and minorities. Adriana Diaz has more on their stories.

Video Transcript

ADRIANA DIAZ: We end tonight with this incredible panorama of Mars captured by NASA's newest robotic explorer, the Perseverance rover. But what also caught our eye wasn't on Mars, it was inside Mission Control.

SWATI MOHAN: Touchdown confirmed.

- It was the voice heard around the world.

SWATI MOHAN: Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars.

- NASA's Swati Mohan wasn't just a commentator.

SWATI MOHAN: About to conduct the SkyCrane maneuver.

- She leads the space controls team.

How did you feel when you said the words "touchdown confirmed"?

SWATI MOHAN: I was still in a little bit of shock.

- Mohan moved to the US from India when she was one. She's among more than a dozen women of color on the core Perseverance team of roughly 300.

- What was it like for you, Christina, when you were watching, and listening to Swati?

CHRISTINA HERNANDEZ: I was like, yes, girl! I was so excited to see a woman who, A, is not only giving so much to the community, but she is a technical beast.

- Engineer Christina Hernandez, who's first-generation Mexican-American helped develop the rover's scientific instruments.

- And Moogega Cooper, who's half Black and half Korean, leads the team that ensures no contaminants are left on Mars.

- There's no perfect team out there, you know? Diversity can always be improved. But man, when I look around and I see women leaders and engineers, it just warms my heart.

- What do you gals do for NASA?

- Calculate your launch and landing site.

- NASA's historic struggles with diversity are documented in "Hidden Figures", the true story of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in the Space Race.

- It's not so far away generationally. My father tells me about how he served in a segregated unit in the Navy. Of all groups of people, I have the most faith that scientists can think beyond the construct of whatever society says and be more inclusive to others.

- Diversity is all about different viewpoints. And when you're trying to solve these complex problems, we need to be able to think outside of the box.

- Did any of you ever encounter someone who said you can't be an engineer, or you can't work for NASA?

- There are always moments where it's like, inside, you question, oh, is it because I'm young? Is it because I'm a young female? Is it because I'm a young Black female? But you just got to keep pushing toward the stars.

- Growing up, they couldn't all afford luxuries like space camp. But their families found a way.

- If there was not a local library, if we didn't have PBS, which is free, those things make it accessible no matter what your income is.

- Those struggles just made us even better at our jobs. Like my grandma says, she says, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. So like, you know, "give it your all." And that's, I think, what all of us do on Mars Perseverance.

ADRIANA DIAZ: They say their greatest passion is helping the next generation.