When Spencer County native Thomas Werne won a rocket contest in the fourth grade, it is unlikely the young software programmer knew he would be working on rockets that are heading Mars. But that is exactly what happened after the Insight mission took a light to the Red Planet last Saturday.
Thomas grew up outside of Santa Claus on a small farm. The Heritage Hills grad moved onto Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute for a lick at higher education. It was there at Rose-Hulman during Werne’s senior year he entered into a career fair. When a friend pushed him to speak to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Werne thought ‘no way could NASA be interested in me.‘
It was that simple interaction at a career fair in Terre Haute that turned into a job interview in Pasadena California and eventually a thriving career with NASA and the JPL.
That was in 2007, and after years of working in research and technology, Thomas linked up with the Mars Cube One Mission, or MarCO. The MarCO work started in 2014, with a brief break when Insight, which is the lead of the mission, backed out for two years.
The mission for Insight is to test the geology of Mars, and learn more about Marsquakes.
When it was time to get back to work, Werne threw himself fully into the project. He was the software programming lead of MarCO, which are two CubeSats that went along for the ride to Mars. CubeSats are small spacecrafts.
The goal of the MarCO CubeSats is to document Insight during what’s known as “seven minutes of terror” or the entry, descent and landing onto Mars. The breadbox sized spacecrafts will be sending real time information back during the Insight’s EDL. They will be reporting back on the health and status of Insight.
Beyond the valuable information, MarCO will be sending back, it serves as a pathfinder for future space exploration.
The mission launched over the weekend, and MarCO is now twice as far from the Earth than the Moon is. Things are going swimmingly as of now, the MarCO CubeSats are reporting back to Earth already.
Insight is set to land right after Thanksgiving, giving new meaning to the phrase “Cyber Monday.”