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Pineville native part of historic Mars Perseverance rover team

Jessica Juneau Clark began her study of math and science at Holy Savior Menard Central High
Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 4:27 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The first sounds and images of Mars have made it back to earth from the Mars Perseverance rover. On that mission’s team is Cenla native Jessica Juneau Clark, a Fault Protection Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“I never dreamed I would end up at NASA. I wanted to do something like this with my life but I never thought it could happen but I never let it stop me from just putting myself out there,” Clark said.

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z...
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover's mast.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Clark, a Pineville native and Menard graduate, began her studies of math and science early. She eventually went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech.

“It’s always great when we have Menard graduates out in the community, out in the world, and in this case doing extraordinary things out there,” Principal Chris Gatlin said.

She’s spent the last five years programming the Perseverance rover to keep itself safe on the mission while it looks for signs of ancient life, collects samples and prepares Mars for human exploration.

“It made me feel hopeful that there’s something to look forward to, and if we all work together and persevere, we can do great things,” Clark said.

Jessica Juneau Clark is a Pineville native working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Jessica Juneau Clark is a Pineville native working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.(NASA/JPL)

Clark will spend about 90 sols, or Mars days, carefully watching over the rover, adjusting her work schedule to the sunrise and sunset on the Red Planet that changes by 40 minutes per day.

“You’re getting to see all of your hard work really pay off and getting some really cool science done,” Clark said.

Clark says her best advice is to be okay with the discomfort of not always knowing as much as those around you and says to never let those challenges stop you from continuing to learn and grow.

“Anytime our kids can see that the sky’s the limit. That you can do whatever you set your mind out to do,” Gatlin said.

“The real thing is about keep pushing the envelope and don’t limit yourself based on what you think you can do,” Clark said. “I think people from Louisiana...we know how to work hard. We know how to persevere. We have a lot of passion. We know how to have fun.”

The Perseverance rover will spend at least one Mars year, equivalent to two Earth years, exploring the landing site region. Clark says after her 90 sols are up, she’ll move on to a new project.

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