In seventh grade, Scott Carpenter, '97, decided he wanted to be in the space industry. Today he can look into the sky and see a planet being explored with his help.
From December 2000 until June 2003, Carpenter worked as a structural analysis engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA.
It was there that the UW aeronautics and astronautics graduate analyzed the parts attached to the lander, the vehicle that carried the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to the Red Planet in January. He was responsible for calculating the strength, stability and stiffness of the original design to ensure parts would not break.
"It still feels unreal to me that millions of people around the world have looked at parts that I have helped design," says Carpenter. "I am treating this like my '15 minutes of fame.'"
The rovers accomplished their mission by showing there was liquid water on Mars. "I am thrilled that the rovers were able to prove that Mars was wet," Carpenter says.
Carpenter, who earned his bachelor's degree from MIT, selected the UW for graduate school because he wanted to work with Professor Kuen Lin, who is famous for his research into the "fracture criteria" for how composite materials fail.
Carpenter now works at Northrop Grumman Space Technology, where he analyzes the structural aspects of two rocket engine designs.
While he is proud of the discoveries of the rovers, there is still more to learn. "We are finding the unexpected, and with the amount we know about Mars, we can be sure that there are still major surprises left, he says." —Lydia Ratna