Sri Lankan Mars 2020 engineer who designed NASA rover’s internal electrical layout

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The NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance rocketed away from Earth on Thursday (30) in search of signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

The one-tonne, six-wheeled rover was launched out of Florida by an Atlas rocket on a path to intercept the second-smallest planet of the Solar System in February next year.

Foreign media reported that the robot will also gather rock and soil samples to be ferried back home later this decade.

Sri Lankan-born mechanical, robotics, and rocket engineer Melony Mahaarachchi has been a key member of the mission team that designed the internal electrical layout for the car-sized rover.

Mahaarachchi, who moved to the United States in 2003 with her husband and two children, pursued an aerospace engineering degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

She had obtained her primary and secondary education from the Girls’ High School in Mount Lavinia and the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya.

Stating a career later in her life, she joined Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the top-tier private aerospace company, in 2010. She then briefly worked at Boeing before joining NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on the Mars Rover 2020 mission in 2015.

Mahaarachchi also founded a non-profit iSTEM Without Borders in 2015 to empower young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers.