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  • Medford to Mars

    Matt Heverly has gone a long way from Rogue Valley schoolkid to driver of the Mars rover Curiosity
  • Matt Heverly starts each workday eagerly awaiting a message — one that must travel 215 million miles through the cold, dark, no man's land of outer space to reach him.
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  • Matt Heverly starts each workday eagerly awaiting a message — one that must travel 215 million miles through the cold, dark, no man's land of outer space to reach him.
    That signal, sent from NASA's Mars Curiosity rover robot, contains a daily report, almost a finished checklist. There is data on analyzed soil samples, the weather, information on the robot's movements, and scenic pictures of the Martian terrain that are missing only the "Wish You Were Here" messages found on Earthly postcards.
    The data is analyzed and scrutinized by NASA scientists, who then write the $2.5 billion rover's next "honey-do" list. Heverly, who attended school in Medford and whose parents still live here, and other engineers then translate that list into lines of code, which are sent from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., back into space.
    Heverly, 37, is the rover's driver. His team's commands control the robot's movements.
    "All these things come together into one giant master list that we essentially email to the rover," Heverly says.
    About 19 minutes later, Curiosity gets the message and continues its mission: seeing whether this rust-colored, windswept planet could ever have supported life.
    "It's one of those things where you definitely take it for granted," Heverly says of his work. "You're so focused on doing this job that you kind of forget that it's actually on Mars. The sense that it's 350 million kilometers (away) is often lost. You forget the magnitude, the distances."
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