Richard Cook during a taping of SCVTV’s “Newsmaker of the Week” program shot at JPL prior to the launch of the Curiosity rover.
Canyon Country resident Richard Cook is one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
This, according to TIME magazine, which released its 2013 list Thursday.
Cook, 47, actually shares the honor with his 67-year-old teammate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Peter Theisinger.
The two have been inseparable since at least 2003-04, when they successfully flew NASA’s twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars.
In fact, either Theisinger or Cook, or both, have led every successful NASA rover mission – and even an unsuccessful Mars project in between, a reminder that their job isn’t easy and interplanetary travel can’t be taken for granted.
WATCH: Richard Cook Newsmaker re: Curiosity Rover, 2012
WATCH: Richard Cook Newsmaker re: Curiosity Rover, 2010
Cook and JPL chief Charles Elachi at Curiosity’s launch in 2011.
In 1996-97, a young and brilliant Richard Cook was in charge of NASA’s very first Mars rover project – designing, building and ultimately flying and landing the Pathfinder spacecraft and its microwave-sized Sojourner rover on the red planet.
Cook has been a repeat guest on SCVTV’s “Newsmaker of the Week” program since 2003 when he was the No. 2 person, behind 1977 Voyager spacecraft veteran Theisinger, in charge of building and flying Spirit and Opportunity.
In some respects, Mars rover projects have been an SCV family affair. Santa Clarita’s Ted Drain and his team designed the navigation software, and Stevenson Ranch resident Wayne Lee – who was on the list of runners in the 2013 Boston Marathon – was in charge of entry, descent and landing for the Spirit and Opportunity missions. They were supposed to last 90 days. That was January 2004, and Opportunity is still going.
Cook was then put in charge of the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) project for JPL. After a series of delays, NASA put the dynamic duo back together. Theisinger returned as No. 1 and Cook took the No. 2 post.
Richard Cook at SCVTV in 2003, shortly before the landing of the Spirit rover.
A step up from Spirit and Opportunity, which looked for signs of “historic water,” Curiosity is NASA’s biggest rover to date. Its job is to look for biological conditions that could have supported life – and after landing in August 2012, it didn’t take it long to find them.
Curiosity had reached Mars with navigation protocols created by Saugus resident Scott Evans and his team. As soon as the SCV’s Gene Bonfiglio and his cohorts in entry, descent and landing got the spacecraft to the planet surface, another Canyon Country resident, Jennifer Trosper, took over as mission manager, as she had done with the 2004 rovers.
“It’s not easy sending a one-ton spacecraft to a planet tens of millions of miles away, lowering it to the surface by cables and setting it free to roam about,” writes Ed Stone, NASA’s chief project scientist for the Voyager missions, in TIME magazine.
Pete Theisinger with a model of the Curiosity rover in 2012 (NASA photo)
“I first got to know Pete back in the 1970s when he worked on my Voyager spacecraft team,” Stone writes. “I could tell even then that he was energetic, inquisitive and, of course, smart. When his turn came to run his own operation, he not only did a stellar job but found equally talented personnel like Richard, who was part of the Pathfinder mission team that landed the first rover on Mars in 1997.”
“When Curiosity touched down on Mars last summer,” Stone writes, “it showed us a desert-like scene that is at once faintly familiar and utterly new. We can’t thank Pete, Richard and their team enough for getting it there safely, and we should continue to thank them for the wisdom and thrills the rover will bring us as it explores its new home.”