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Ex-NASA engineer watches her project land on Mars while serving Latter-day Saint mission

For almost a year, Michelle Wright Amos worked on the Mars 2020 rover as a systems engineer.

But before the Perseverance rover launched on July 30, 2020, Amos and her husband, John, received a special church assignment to supervise young men and young women serving as full-time missionaries in Louisiana.

While the Amoses missed the launch, they did not miss the landing Thursday afternoon.

Sister Michelle Amos and her husband, President John D. Amos, shared the Perseverance rover landing via Zoom technology with more than 200 missionaries serving in the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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A short time after the landing, Sister Amos was still flying high from the experience.

“I’m excited. I’m still up there,” she said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. “I’m still excited, happy, just amazed and all of the above. It’s been a great last two hours.”

Before overseeing missionary work in Louisiana, Michelle Amos graduated from Southern University and earned a master’s degree in engineering management at the University of Central Florida before going on to a 30-year career working at NASA and the John F. Kennedy Space Center, where she was part of the team of engineers assigned to the Mars 2020 rover.

John Amos, also a Southern graduate, was commissioned in the Navy and Navy Reserve where he spent 21 years as a nuclear power engineer.

“I knew the Lord needed me to do something else,” she said. “I definitely miss working for NASA and the excitement of (Thursday), but I have not looked back.”

Touching down at around 3:55 p.m. EST, the Perseverance rover became NASA’s fifth rover to land on Mars. It will now begin a two-year mission roaming the surface of Mars searching for signs of microbial life.

Sister Amos admitted to being nervous as she watched the rover’s final approach, nicknamed “seven minutes of terror.” She recalled the numerous tests conducted two years earlier to ensure a successful landing.

“We tested that system over and over. We knew that it would land correctly. But that’s a simulation,” she said. “It’s a whole different story when you are in the Martian atmosphere. All the projections for wind, temperature and gravity that helped you to be successful using flight software on Earth — it’s got to work in a Martian atmosphere. That’s the nail-biting part of it.”

When touchdown was confirmed, everyone in the mission Zoom meeting gave out a jubilant yell.

“It was great to see my friends and so many years of hard work and labor come to fruition,” Sister Amos said.

Prior to Thursday’s landing, Sister Amos informed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory communications director of their planned missionary watch party. The JPL sent enough Mars 2020 rover stickers for each missionary.

After watching the landing, the Amoses allowed the missionaries to share their feelings and the Zoom meeting took a spiritual turn.

“They linked the spiritual knowledge to the secular knowledge and faith to science,” Sister Amos said. “We’ve inspired some engineers out there and folks that want to work for NASA. … I think we made some good mileage with our missionaries and helped them to want to be inspired. … They will be recording this in their journals.”

“They linked the spiritual knowledge to the secular knowledge and faith to science. We’ve inspired some engineers out there and folks that want to work for NASA.” — Sister Michelle Amos

Elder Jace Owens of Show Low, Arizona, was one of those who came away inspired. He recalled the Mars 2020 rover launch took place on the same day he entered the Missionary Training Center at the beginning of his mission.

The young elder greatly appreciated the opportunity to watch the landing and said he hopes to work for NASA one day.

“This is probably one of the best things that has happened to me on the mission,” he said in the Zoom meeting.

The Amoses also shared scriptural insights about the creation and the stars and connected them to Jesus Christ. Watching the landing strengthened their faith, she said.

“I’m still amazed at what we just watched,” Sister Amos said. “I never expected it would have this impact but God knew. I feel blessed to be an instrument in his hands and serve the Lord.”

 

Source: Deseret News

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