Interview with a Mars rover driver: Scott Maxwell of JPL

Photo (NASA JPL): The first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.

Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her.  It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now.  I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do.  It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.

Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.


  1. At the risk of restarting the manned versus unmanned holy war, I’ve got to say that this mission has excited me much more than any manned mission has in a really long time.

    1.  I know that with the manned missions, I feel a certain amount of envy — she gets to go to space, but I don’t. :( But with robotic missions, we all get to go to space. Robots in space are the playing characters of all humanity.

  2. Gale Crater, Mars looks a lot like Black Rock Desert, Earth, at least in black and white.  A little rockier, but still.  I almost expect to see Curiosity driving around Burning Man.

    1.  It might look barren now, but it’s only August 8th.  Pretty soon, they’ll have the trash fence up and then the streets laid out and then Gate and then Greeters and then CC Cafe and then the entrance to the BART station… it’ll all be good in a couple of weeks.

  3. I’d like to see the operators arrange for the rover to secretly make cairns of rock, and burn logos in the capstones with its laser.

    Purely as a training exercise, of course.

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