UCSC alum helps guide Mars rover Curiosity to successful landing

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Steve Collins waits during the "seven minutes of terror" as the rover approaches the surface of mars. (AP Photo/Brian van der Brug, Pool)

UC Santa Cruz alumnus Steve Collins was featured in news coverage of the dramatic landing of NASA's robotic explorer Curiosity on the surface of Mars on Sunday, August 5.

An Associated Press photo shows a tense-looking Collins waiting during the "seven minutes of terror" as the rover approached the surface of Mars. As Curiosity's attitude control subsystem engineer, Collins was inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena during the landing. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is equipped with a nuclear-powered lab capable of vaporizing rocks, ingesting soil, and measuring habitability.

At UC Santa Cruz, Collins (Porter, '85) earned bachelor's degrees in both physics and theater arts. In addition to his work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which he joined in 1992, he has acted in local theater productions and plays the theremin in a rock band called Artichoke, known for its two-CD set of pop songs about scientists ("26 Scientists: Volume 1, Anning to Malthus; Volume 2, Newton to Zeno").