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To MARS with MER - GET INVOLVED!
RANDEL ("RANDY") LINDEMANN
The engineers at JPL are people who have come to an institution where they can flex their minds, their intellectual muscles, on extremely hard challenges. The people here very often take themselves to their limits, sort of like an extreme mountain climber, or an extreme athlete. This is a different kind of extreme personal motivation, but I think, while often painful and difficult, it is always rewarding in the end. Of course, we’re always keeping our goal on the prize at the end of the road. For this mission the prize will be these rovers on Mars, driving around, seeing new things that no human being could possibly get to. And so that is such an inspiring and awesome task that the personal sacrifices necessary to achieve it and to be part of it are always worth it in the end.
My team is represented by what we call at JPL "cognizant engineers." And the cognizant engineers are the engineers that are the responsible engineer directing a group of designers and analysts and technicians and machinists, etc., to build hardware up, to design and built and test the individual components of the rover system, for instance. And the term “cognizant” is very central to what we look for in a cognizant engineer. A cognizant engineer "owns" the problem. They watch their hardware from inception or conception—we use the term around here “from womb to tomb.” You need somebody who’s completely knowledgeable and aware of every facet of an assemby’s design and how it interfaces to other hardware, and how it works with other hardware. Because what we’re doing is very complicated -- everything that we do for the first time -- so there really isn’t a lot of opportunity to make mistakes. So the "coggies" really need to be people who are extremely dedicated. They need to love the work. They need to be extremely bright, they need to be on top of things, they need to be very skilled in their branch of engineering and very aware and attuned to the other branches of design that they’re not responsible for but which have people that work for them in.
Really, it takes somebody who completely masters and feels an ownership of hardware and watches it all the way through, makes sure that it’s going to be okay, understands it to the finest detail, is always looking for issues, for problems, and then draws in other people and outside people, managers and consultants and lead engineers or chief engineers, to help them solve their problems. But they own the problem.
So the kind of person that can live up to that kind of self-directed, earnest endeavor is the kind of people that we need to find for cognizant engineers.