On Monday, August 6, NASA’s rover Curiosity carried out a highly challenging landing on Mars, transmitting images back to Earth after traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space to explore the red planet.
And Moroccan-American Dr. Kamal Oudrhiri, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was the first to tell the world that Curiosity had landed successfully.
“I am the head of Radio Science, the team that detects signals from the robot. Sensitive receptors are used to track the robots as they pass through different planets during their trip. I’ll be the first person to confirm whether the landing of Curiosity was successful. Once the robot is on Mars, I will also participate in the various expeditions of Curiosity, “said Dr. Oudrhiri in an interview with the Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) news agency just before the landing. The period before the landing, known as the “7 minutes of terror,” was the most tense for Dr. Oudrhiri as Curiosity hurled toward the Martian surface at over 13,000 miles per hour.
As part of NASA’s team for more than 18 years, Dr. Oudrhiri was the lead scientist on a multi-year research project aimed at defining the range of future technologies required to motivate the next wave of scientific discoveries. Working with senior research scientists and technologists, he spearheaded the development of a Science Instrument Roadmap that was delivered to the radio science community in 2009. Dr. Oudrhiri served in key leadership roles for the two critical NASA missions: The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) “Spirit” and “Opportunity” and the International Cassini mission to Saturn. He received NASA Honor Awards for his work on MER and Cassini.
In 2003, Dr. Oudrhiri founded Grove of Hope, a non-profit organization that works to bring science educational opportunities to children and their schools in Africa and the Middle East.
Dr. Oudrhiri, from Fez, has lived in the US since the late 1980′s where he received his doctorate degree from the University of Southern California. On July 30, this year, His Majesty King Mohammed VI decorated Dr. Oudrhiri with the Ouissam Al Arch de l’ordre d’officier.
“As a Moroccan-American, I am obviously very honored to participate in this extremely important mission for NASA, America and the world,” said Dr. Oudrhiri to MAP.
Dr. Oudrhiri isn’t the only Moroccan connection to Mars. In July 2011, rare and expensive fragments of a Mars meteorite fell from the sky in July over Morocco. A fireball in the sky was observed in a remote region of southern Morocco by nomads who tracked down fragments of the 15 pound meteorite, marking only the fifth time in history that a Mars rock has been seen falling to Earth.
Also, earlier this year it was announced that beginning in February 2013, the Austrian Space Forum in cooperation with the Ibn-Battuta-Center at the University of Marrakesh will conduct a Mars field simulation in the northern Sahara near Erfoud, Morocco where a small field crew will conduct experiments preparing for future human Mars missions. The area in the Moroccan Sahara was chosen because it shares several geological features of Mars, as well as a diversity of paleo(micro)biological signatures, terrain topographies similar to the Martian deserts.
Story credits: CNN.com, Maghreb Arab Press, Slate Afrique, Wafin.com, AllAfrica.com, NASA.gov, DailyMail.co.uk