Ashley Stroupe was a small child when Apollo 17--the final manned mission to the moon--blasted off in 1972. But she can vividly remember watching the television coverage with her parents, including her father, an aeronautical engineer who worked on the space program. Stroupe decided she was going into space some day.
To her chagrin, she says she soon learned "they won't let you be an astronaut if you get motion sickness on a carousel."
Yet for the past five years, Stroupe has been driving on the surface of another planet. As a senior engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she writes command sequences that control the navigation and robotic arms of the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which were launched within weeks of each other in January 2004. Although the battered rovers are now five years past their original 90-day mission, they continue to send back valuable data about soil conditions on Mars.
Uploading instructions to the rovers takes only a few minutes, but learning whether they responded correctly takes up to 12 hours. "It can be stressful, especially when we're trying to get out of an emergency or a trouble spot," Stroupe says. "But the rovers haven't disappointed us yet. The good nights far outweigh the bad."
She credits several current and past SCS faculty, including Manuela Veloso, Herbert A. Simon Professor of Computer Science, with helping her chart a career path. "Manuela is a force of nature and infects everyone around her with this love for what she's doing," Stroupe says. Reid Simmons, research professor of robotics, was another inspiration, she says. And she calls former Robotics Institute research scientist Tucker Balch--now at Georgia Tech--her cheerleader: "He really encouraged me and helped me meet the right people."
Though her eyes are on the stars, Stroupe keeps her feet on the ground. Away from JPL, she's a mentor to middle school girls in Pasadena who are dealing with peer pressure and other problems of young adulthood.
Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 | jt3y [atsymbol] cs.cmu.edu