Mission to Mars

School of Computing and Engineering grad helped design the parachute system for the Mars 2020 mission

John Bazin (B.S. '15, M.S. '16) spoke with us about his job designing the parachute for the Mars 2020 rover mission's spacecraft.

Tell us about your current position.

I am a design engineer at Airborne Systems in Santa Ana, California. I design and develop aerodynamic decelerators for a number of government organizations. I have been working on the Mars 2020 Rover Parachute system for the past year. 

How did you end up working on the Mars 2020 parachute system?

Not a lot of people have experience designing or working with parachutes in the engineering community. I worked with parachutes with Dr. Travis Fields at UMKC. I used to do drop tests in the atrium in Flarsheim Hall. I was fortunate enough to win a student paper competition and have a paper on parachutes published. I met one of the supervisors at Airborne Systems at the conference I went to where I was presenting that paper.

Having the research experience and a master's degree set me apart from the rest of the group. That, combined with good communications skills, are the reasons I believe I was chosen to work on the program.

Did you have to learn about Mars in order to work on the parachute system? For example, how does a parachute deploy differently in Earth's atmosphere compared to Mars'?

Yes, there was a lot of research and work that I had to do to prepare myself for the program. I did this research on work time and was given about a week to learn what I needed to so that I could immediately start contributing. The learning never stops though, that was just the amount of time they gave me to get as familiar as I could with the system before I started doing work.

Mars' atmosphere is more than twice as thin as Earth's atmosphere. It has just enough density that you have to deal with it, otherwise it will destroy the spacecraft. Our parachute deploys at more than twice the speed of sound. It is about 60 feet in diameter and deploys in less than 0.5 seconds. These harsh conditions require it to be incredibly strong. The parachute we have developed and tested so is the biggest and strongest supersonic parachute that has ever been built.

What is a typical day at work like for you?

It's hard to know what I'm going to be working on past a week or two. Tasks change priority and things come up all the time that you have to be able to adapt to. I would say though it's about 80 percent desk work and 20 percent field work, which is nice.

I got to go to the largest wind tunnel in the world and see our parachute deployed under rigorous test conditions. After the test was over, the wind speed was lowered to about 20 miles per hour and we were allowed to walk around the tunnel with the parachute inflated. It was by far the most amazing and spectacular thing I have ever seen in my life.

To learn more about the Mars 2020 mission, visit mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.

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Published: Jul 18, 2019

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