2021/4/18  
英文 English 
Meeting the top Taiwan engineers behind Mars rover ‘Perseverance’ (2021/04/07)

On Feb. 28, NASA's Perseverance rover landed on Mars. The fifth U.S. rover to reach the red planet was a masterpiece of hard work from many nations. Let's meet two of Taiwan's top engineers who contributed to the mission's success. Dr. Yen Cheng designed computer models, allowing the rover to be controlled from Earth, while Dr. Allen Chen took care of the crucial final minutes of the rover's journey, before it landed on the surface of Mars. Dr. Chen said he intends to come back to Taiwan to visit the National Space Organization once the pandemic subsides.

Dr. Swati Mohan, NASA aerospace engineer: Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.

On Feb. 28, the Perseverance rover completed its seven-month, 480 million-kilometer journey to land on Mars. In Paris, New York, the U.K. and Switzerland, landmarks lit up red to celebrate arrival on the red planet.

NASA TV announcer: Looks like we have some more news – and it looks like we’re getting the first image.

Perseverance is the fifth U.S. rover to successfully land on Mars. NASA’s most advanced rover, it cost over NT$75 billion to build and has been called the best-equipped astrobiology lab ever to land on another planet. It has a drone tasked with seeking evidence of life on Mars, and will explore the age-old question of the planet’s habitability.

In the team behind the mission were two Taiwanese engineers. Taiwan-born and bred Dr. Yen led the team who designed and operated the rover’s computational modeling. Meanwhile, Dr. Chen, a Taiwanese American, engineered its descent and landing mechanisms.

Allen Chen, NASA systems engineer: I always like to joke that I wasn’t good enough at physics or astronomy to become a physicist or astronomer. But I can solve F=ma, over and over again, so that makes me a decent engineer. But the truth is, I like to build stuff. That’s the bottom line.

Like many Taiwanese emigrants, Chen’s parents were both accomplished scientists. He grew up in Pennsylvania and studied at MIT’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department, before getting his Doctorate in Management from UCLA.

Chen jokes that his science wasn’t quite up to scratch but his love of aerospace saw him through. With 15 years’ experience at the NASA Mars Science lab, he spent 10 years on the “Curiosity” rover. For Perseverance, he managed entry, descent, and landing – that means the crucial seven minutes between the rover entering Mars’ atmosphere and landing. It’s the riskiest moment in the journey.

Allen Chen, NASA systems engineer: The biggest challenges, really, with landing on Mars, come with our inability to test as we fly, right? There’s a mantra within JPL and at NASA, that we want to test as we fly and fly like we test. What that means really is that we want to be able to do as much as we can on the ground, to put the spacecraft through its paces, that it’ll see on Mars. Because Mars is far away, it takes 11.5 minutes or so for the radio signal to travel at the speed of light from Mars to Earth. So by the time we even find out that it’s started, the vehicle’s on the ground, one way or another, already.

A journey like that has no predetermined path. We asked for advice for a would-be aerospace engineer – and Chen said alongside curiosity and perseverance, you need to get up again and again after failure.

Allen Chen, NASA systems engineer: We should stake our – be willing to be daring, for the big payoff. Because we’re gonna stay in the arena, and fight. To follow those dreams right through, you know, having some perseverance to follow the dreams is gonna be necessary, right? You know, things are difficult. And it’s a difficult industry to break into.

For any aerospace engineer, working at NASA is a dream come true. And for Chen, getting the chance to come back to his family home in Taiwan is a dream as well.

Allen Chen, NASA systems engineer: The last time I went back was in 2013, I think? So about seven years ago? I’m sure it’s gotten even further since 2013, that… And it’s a beautiful place as well. I got to go to places in Taiwan. My parents took me to various places and there’s a lot of natural beauty, as well as great cities too, and good food. So I’d like to come back some day.

He says once the pandemic is past, he will land back in Taiwan, to visit to the National Space Organization, and partake once more in the delights of Taiwanese cuisine.
中文 Chinese  
「毅力號」成功登陸火星 陳友倫背後重要推手

2月18日,美國「毅力號」探測器成功登陸火星,讓人類對火星的探索再進一步,而背後最大亮點除了負責操控車子的工程師是來自台灣的嚴正之外,來自台灣的移民二代陳友倫,負責整個任務最重要也最危險的下降著陸工作,本台獨家視訊專訪陳友倫,他暢談毅力號降落火星的任務,還說很想念台灣的美食和風景。

美國太空總署工程師斯瓦蒂·莫漢:確認著陸,毅力號安全在火星表面著陸,下一步是要尋找,火星上是否存在過生命跡象。

2月18日,美國太空總署火星探測器「毅力號」經過7個月、4.8億公里航行後,成功登上火星。當時在法國巴黎、美國紐約、英國及瑞士等主要地標,都打上代表火星的紅色燈光慶賀。

美國太空總署電視台主持人:看似我們有一些新訊息,看來我們接收到了第一張照片。

「毅力號」是美國第5個成功登陸火星的探測器,造價超過750億台幣,是目前美國太空總署,最先進的探測器,被外界認為是人類有史以來送到另一星球,設備最齊全的天體生物學實驗室,首次攜帶無人機,要在火星上展開尋找生命證據的任務,探索可居住性,解開人類長久以來的謎團。

任務成功的背後,還有兩個亮點,一個是領導的機器人介面與視覺化小組,負責操控車子的工程師,台灣長大的嚴正。另一個是負責擔任這次毅力號下降及著陸階段的工程師,具有台裔美籍背景的陳友倫。

美國太空總署工程師陳友倫:我總是開玩笑說,我物理和天文不夠好,所以不能成為物理學家或天文學家,但我可以一次又一次解F=ma,所以這讓我會是一名合適的工程師,還有重點是我喜歡打造東西。

像許多台灣移民一樣,陳友倫的父母都是擁有專業技能的科學家,他在美國賓州出生長大,就讀麻省理工學院航空太空工程系,取得學士及碩士學位後,接著到美國加州大學洛杉磯分校,再獲得商學博士學位。

陳友倫自嘲,學生時代相關科學領域學得不好,但愛上太空科學領域,一路鑽研。曾經在美國太空總署火星科學實驗室工作超過15年,也曾參與「好奇號」火星探測器計劃長達10年,這次負責「毅力號」大約7分鐘的下降著陸,是整個任務中,最重要也最危險的部分。

美國太空總署工程師陳友倫:登陸火星的最大挑戰就是,我們無法進行如正式飛行的測試,在JPL和NASA有一句口號就是,我們要如正式飛行的測試,如測試的正式飛行,其實意思就是說,我們要盡可能在地面,讓太空器經歷在火星上我們會看到的過程。因為火星距離遙遠,無線電訊號要以光速、從火星傳到地球,大概要11分鐘半,所以當我們知道它開始時,火星探測器無論如何已經到表面了。

從事這一行,前方沒有既定道路,身為太空科學家,除了得擁有的好奇跟毅力兩大特質,勇於接受失敗後再挑戰,是成功關鍵。

美國太空總署工程師陳友倫:我們應該為了取得大成功,樂意大膽嘗試,我們將留在競技場上拚搏。有毅力跟隨你的夢想是必要的,事情並不容易,這是一個不容易進入的產業。

在全球太空領域的最高殿堂工作,陳友倫樂在其中,至於父母的故鄉,台灣,始終放在心上。

美國太空總署工程師陳友倫:上一次我想是2013年,大概是7年前了。我想自2013年以來,台灣一定更進步了,還有很多美麗的地方,我父母帶我去過很多地方,很多自然美景、很棒的城市、還有食物,所以我想要再回去。

陳友倫承諾,等到武漢肺炎疫情平息,會再造訪台灣,除了參觀國家太空中心,也要品嘗讓他懷念許久的台灣美食。

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