Department of Physics and Engineering

West Virginia Wesleyan College

Alumnus helps NASA Rover Curiosity land safely on Mars


Chris Kuhl (1993) celebrated the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity at 1:31 AM EDT on August 5, 2012.


Kuhl is Chief Engineer of the Mars Science Laboratory, Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation project (MEDLI). MEDLI is a set of sensors on the Rover’s heatshield that monitor atmospheric conditions during descent.


During the “seven minutes of terror,” the length of time it took the Rover to pass through the atmosphere of Mars, Kuhl was collecting data at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California.


At about 10:30 pm in Pasadena, a signal reached the control room that the Rover had landed successfully.


“I was nervous, trying to make sense of all the data, and before I knew it, while I’m still looking at the data, they called touchdown,” Kuhl recalled.  


“At that point, I knew that the heatshield survived. Our worries diminished and everyone started jumping for joy.”


The rocket to Mars was launched on Nov. 26, 2011, to study whether Mars ever had conditions suitable

for life.


Kuhl had always been interested in space exploration, even when he first enrolled at Wesleyan. After he graduated from Wesleyan, he obtained an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University.


He hopes the Mars mission excites a younger generation about space exploration because “it brings out the best of society of produce something like this.”

Kuhl 11News conference—Chris Kuhl is the person on the right.


The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for a planetary mission. This image shows the heat shield being prepared at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, in April 2011.Biggest-ever heatshield is prepared for the Mars Rover spacecraft. This image shows the heatshield being prepared at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, in April 2011. Technicians in the photo are installing electronics for collecting data during descent through the Martian atmosphere.