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Tomasso Rivellini
Airbag Design Consultant, and Engineer
Landing system designer, for the Mobile Science Laboratory (Mars 2009)
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

P2K: Is the Mars Exploration Rovers mission any less fun than Pathfinder?

Tom Rivellini: You know I just started working on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission full time in the last 6 months, but all of my colleagues are working on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, and I got the distinct impression that it is a lot more stressful than Pathfinder was.

People on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission are a lot more stressed than on Pathfinder, and I think the key issue there is really the schedule. You know, people know how to do their job; they know what they need to do for the most part. It's just that there is not enough time to do the job as completely as people really want to do. I mean, people are having to start the fabrication of their hardware before they are done designing the hardware. That's really nerve-wracking, because when that part fails, it's like that soldier in the frontline who drops the ball. People are counting on him to succeed. And so it puts a lot of pressure on people.

But you know, the project and the Lab (JPL) are trying to fill in with as much support, as much senior level expertise coming in to help people, pulling people out of retirement to do a lot of hand-holding, and that's a good thing, because everybody needs their hand held at some point. (Laughs) No matter how senior people think they are around here, there are more senior people who have retired! So, you know, I think as deadlines start to come, and people start to make their deliveries, I think the mood, hopefully will get a little bit better.

Working on a flight project, especially one like the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, or Pathfinder, is, I mean for me, the closest analogy is working, being a soldier on the frontlines. You are there, you are the frontline, you are where the action is happening. If you drop the ball, there are serious (consequences), not tomorrow, not the next day, but now, right away. And there are a lot of people counting on you not to drop the ball. And there's a lot of pressure. But it's exciting because you know what the end product is. You know when you win that battle the reward is historic. The reward is incredibly rewarding from a personal standpoint. And it's just one of those accomplishments that when you put that framed picture of Mars on your mantle and you can point to it and say "I did that", there are few things in life that actually come close to just the personal reward that you get from that.

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