Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Jennifer Trosper:
Spirit Mission Manager From SCV

Jennifer Trosper
Jennifer Trosper, the Spirit's mission manager for surface operations, participates in a meeting at JPL in Pasadena on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2004, before giving the rover its morning wake-up call on its first full day on Mars.  Associated Press/Pool Photo.

• Canyon Country resident Jennifer Trosper has come a long way from an Ohio farm to direct the Spirit rover's actions on Mars.

Editor's note: Many of the 650 NASA/JPL team members on the Mars Exploration Rover program live in the Santa Clarita Valley. We will follow them throughout the mission's three-month ground phase as the rovers search for signs of past life on Mars.

By Brian Franks
Signal Staff Writer

Saturday, January 10, 2004

PASADENA — When NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spirit rover rolls off the spacecraft that brought it to Mars sometime next week, Jennifer Trosper of Canyon Country will be directing the rover's day-to-day activities.
    Trosper, JPL mission manager for surface operations of the rover, is in charge of the nearly 280 scientists and engineers who are working to determine when and where Spirit rolls off the lander, and which rocks it examines on its 90-day mission to search for evidence there was once life on the Red Planet.
    "At this point, if things go well, my job is just encouraging people," Trosper said. "If things go bad, I'll be consumed with figuring out what went wrong."

Jennifer Trosper
Trosper gives MER Project Manager Peter Theisinger a hug on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2004, upon learning that the Spirit rover has arrived safely on Mars.  Associated Press/NASA Photo.

    Trosper, who grew up on a farm in Ohio, first became interested in space exploration as a child listening to her father talk about the missiles he worked to develop during the 1950s. But it wasn't until a high school summer music camp that she decided to pursue a career in engineering rather than become a concert pianist.
    "I liked technical stuff. I liked solving problems and engineering is all about that," she said. "I'm sort of attracted to challenging programs and I did not want to regret something that might have been fun and interesting for me."
    After graduating from high school, Trosper moved to Boston to study engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    "I loved MIT and being in Boston. It is a fun place to live," she said. "I had grown up in a rural area and had not been exposed to too much. It was a great experience. It made my world a lot bigger."
    In 1990, after graduating from MIT with a degree in aerospace and engineering, Trosper went to work as a camp counselor at a Christian girls camp where she mainly taught archery.
    "It was a nice break from what I had been doing for the last few years," she said.
    Following her three-month tour as a camp counselor, Trosper moved to Southern California to work as a subsystems engineer in JPL's power section, where she learned how the systems that power JPL's spacecraft were designed.
Jennifer Trosper
Trosper examines the first stereo images of Mars taken from the rover on Sunday Jan. 4, 2004.  Associated Press/NASA Photo.

    After learning the ins and outs of JPL, Trosper moved from the power section to the attitude control section where she learned spacecraft dynamics and controls as she worked on NASA's Cassini-Huygens spacecraft mission to Saturn.
    Then in 1994, Trosper had a calling and took a leave of absence from JPL to teach English and Christianity in the former Soviet Union.
    "I had always wanted to do that. I had the bug and I needed to do it," she said. "The Russian culture is so much different from ours. In 1994, the wall had just come down and they were redividing the country. It was an interesting time to be there.
    "When I left JPL, (they) said, 'We will give you a leave of absence, but we are not guaranteeing you a job when you return.' So before I came home, I sent a postcard and asked if there were any job openings.
    Upon returning to Ohio, Trosper got a call from JPL.
President Bush
President George W. Bush, in the Oval Office, places a congratulatory call to the MER team at JPL on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004. Trosper invited him to drive a rover.  Associated Press/White House Photo.

    "They said, 'We have a new mission called Mars Pathfinder. Are you interested?' I said sure," she said.
    Following Pathfinder's successful landing on Mars on July 4, 1997, Trosper began working on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbitor. A few years later, after taking some time off to get married, she began working on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program.
    Over the next few years, Trosper worked her way up from the project systems engineer in charge of validating the rover's system testing to mission manager for surface operations of the rover.
    On Tuesday, President Bush telephoned to congratulate the JPL MER mission team, calling Spirit's successful landing on Mars Jan. 3 a "reconfirmation of the American spirit of exploration."
    "It means a lot to me that the leadership of this country is interested and encouraged by what we are doing," she said. "It was clear from the conversation that he (the president) was personable and fun and you could tell he was interested in what we are doing."
    During the conference call, after one of her co-workers invited the president to visit JPL, Trosper told the president that if he did come for a visit she would let him drive the rover.
    "He said he would like to do that, but he didn't commit to anything," she said.

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