Curiosity did not kill the cat, if you ask a pair of West Virginia University engineering alums now NASA scientists.
In fact, “Curiosity killed the cat” may be the most ill-advised, self-limiting proverb an expression that goes against the livelihood of Dan Moyers and Steven Mikes.
Without Curiosity, there is no exploration, discovery or progress.
Perhaps that’s why NASA aptly named its latest rover project “Curiosity.”
Moyers and Mikes work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. and have had a hand in the development of the Curiosity rover, a car-sized robot currently roaming around the surface of Mars.
Curiosity made headlines when it landed successfully on the planet after a 354-million-mile journey Aug. 6. The rover will investigate the Martian climate and geology, the role of water and whether the planet has ever offered environmental conditions suitable for life.
Not only will it collect information that tells the history of Mars but it could provide “insight into what might happen on Earth and how to prevent it.”
Exploration. Discovery. Progress.
“You’re always motivated to do this job,” said Moyers, 33, a spacecraft systems engineer who helped build and test the rover. “The chance for discovery keeps you interested.”
Moyers, a Bruceton Mills native, graduated from University High School in 1997 and from WVU in 2002 with two degrees, in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
His own curiosity as a child lives on today through his work on the Curiosity rover.
“As a kid, I was always interested in space,” Moyers said. “I’d see the moon and all of these weird shadows. I learned those were craters. So I got more and more curious, asking myself many questions including, ‘What are the odds there could life on another planet or galaxy?’”
Moyers attributes the molding of his success to the education he gained at WVU. One person in particular, John Kuhlman, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, helped Moyers catch his first big break.
During his sophomore year, Moyers was approached by Kuhlman, who told him about an open internship at NASA. Moyers ended up earning that internship with NASA in Virginia, an experience that surely helped propel him to his future career with the agency.
“Dr. Kuhlman got my foot in the door with NASA,” Moyers said. “What I like about WVU is that the professors are incredible and they’re not there just to teach class and get a paycheck. They really are interested in the careers of their students. You don’t get that at bigger schools.”
Moyers went on to earn his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University – while working full-time at NASA.
After graduating from WVU in 2002, he served as a research intern with NASA until September 2003, when he was offered a job as mission systems engineering in Pasadena.
Just as impressive is Mikes’ resume.
Mikes, 48, is a senior engineer in avionics and flight systems. The Clarksburg native helped design and build software for Curiosity. That comes as no surprise for a guy who coded a computer operating system from scratch during his days at WVU.
Mikes began working at NASA in October 1989, just months after graduating from WVU.
And like Moyers, Mikes doesn’t consider his job “work,” as in a four-letter dirty word.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” Mikes said. “After all these years, I still enjoy going to work.”
Mikes helped build software for the one-ton rover, allowing it to cruise to Mars, descend safely and scuttle around the planet. It approached Mars at about 13,000 miles per hour before slowing down via a deployed parachute.
Moyers and Mikes are just two of several WVU grads who’ve worked on the NASA rover project. They include Jeremy Deskins, Eric Gorb, Aaron Higgins, Frank Huy, Carol Lilly, Eileen Reiff, Neal Saito, John “Ryan” Schmidt, Zack Seamon, Jeffry Sincell, Dave Turner, Dustin Whitt and Jeff Zemerick.
The team is anxious for what Curiosity might discover.
“From our previous rovers, we know that Mars used to be a wet planet,” Moyers said. “We’re hoping to learn things that could benefit and help protect earth.
“We want to keep pushing the frontier into space. Each step is a stepping stone to discovering other life on other planets. “
By Jake Stump
CONTACT: University Relations-News
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.