A native of Queens, New York, Indian American Vishnu Sridhar was part of the team that helped engineer the Mars rover, Perseverance.
While growing up in Rego Park, Queens, Sridhar was awed at the airplanes that would take off from nearby LaGuardia airport, a Gothamist report said.
As a high-school student, he sent a weather balloon up 100,000 feet and got a taste of the vastness of space—so much left unexplored, unseen by human eyes. His grandfather, a civil engineer who built trains and dams in India, also inspired him, according to the Feb. 18 report.
“One of the key events that sparked my interest in space and exploration was watching National Geographic. The Carl Sagan TV show ‘Cosmos’, too—that really sparked my interest in human exploration and exploring our solar system,” Sridhar said in the report.
Now the 27-year-old is the lead systems engineer for the SuperCam on the Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance. The rover landed on Feb. 18, with another Indian American, Swati Mohan, leading operations.
The SuperCam is an instrument designed to scan rocks and minerals—from up to 20 feet away—to determine their chemical makeup. It will allow the rover to analyze parts of the terrain that it may not be able to physically reach, the Gothamist report said.
The rover, the SuperCam, and its other devices will help scientists search for clues of past life on Mars.
The rover also has a buddy with it called Ingenuity, which is going to be the first rotorcraft [helicopter] on another planet, according to Sridhar.
“We have another instrument called MOXIE, which is this little piece of technology that's going to use the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen,” the Indian American added in the Gothamist report. “That's a tech demo that's going to pave our way into the future for human space explorers.”
SuperCam has a microscopic-level camera that can take minute, high-resolution images of rocks that the geologists on Earth can analyze and study. But it also has built in lasers and spectrometers [for chemical analysis], the report notes.
When it fires its laser, it can basically detect the chemical composition and the mineral makeup of the different rocks, Sridhar said.
“Summer 2019 was when instruments came in from France and Los Alamos and when we physically integrated SuperCam with the Perseverance rover,” Sridhar reminisced. “That's something I will cherish for the rest of my life, to have touched and worked on a piece of hardware that's on its way to Mars.”