Vishnu Sridhar

How did you end up working in the space program?

I studied aerospace engineering, went to a career fair, and applied online, which led to an interview for a position at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

My time at JPL over the past five years has been dedicated to Mars. I have had the privilege to develop cutting-edge technologies to explore worlds beyond our own through systems engineering, instrument design, and operations.

I am currently the Instrument Engineer for SuperCam on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. SuperCam is a remote-sensing instrument that will use laser spectroscopy to analyze the chemical composition of rocks on the Martian surface.

My job is to ensure the successful delivery of SuperCam for science operations on the surface of Mars. By working alongside fellow engineers and scientists during the preparation of the SuperCam instrument, I’ve formed friendships and learned a ton. I’ve followed the engineering phases of SuperCam and the Perseverance rover from initial design to build stage to its launch and cruise through space towards Mars. I can’t begin to describe the mixed emotions and excitement I feel in anticipation that I'm starting a new journey with the landing on Mars in Feb 2021!

Prior to joining the Mars 2020 project, I was the Spacecraft Systems Engineer and Flight Director for the Opportunity rover on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project. During Opportunity’s final uplink that attempted to regain communication following the Mars dust storm, I served as the final Flight Director for Opportunity. Additionally, I was a Tactical Uplink Lead and a Tactical Downlink Lead for the MER rover Opportunity team. A mission operations role, in which I was responsible for leading scientists and engineers in planning activities for a given sol (day) on Mars. Through my almost one thousand sols working on the MER project, I became well versed in operating rovers on Mars. Along this journey, I’ve encountered several anomalies and thought-provoking discoveries.

JPL has an astounding 50+ years of Mars exploration recorded in the history books. It has been an absolute honor to be part of creating new history in space exploration - being the last Flight Director of the MER rover Opportunity and the cognizant engineer for the Mars 2020 instrument, SuperCam. It has been a privilege working alongside the extraordinary people at JPL and the Mars community.

What are some fun facts about yourself?

Outside of work you can catch me cooking, playing tennis, hiking, and flying drones.