“Houston, we have a Landing!”: An Interview with Loay Elbasyouni, the Arab Mastermind Behind the Successful Landing of NASA’s “Perseverance” Rover
By: Claire Boyle/Arab America Contributing Writer
The whole world watched in amazement when NASA’s Perseverance Rover and its attached helicopter, Ingenuity, made its historic landing on Mars in February 2021. The Mars 2020 mission has been a project in the making for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), since 2013. Perhaps, a little-known fact is that one of the engineers behind the successful landing of the rover and its helicopter is a man of Arab American descent. Meet, Loay Elbasyouni, whose research and work contributed in a major way to the success of NASA’s mission and the landing of the Perseverance Rover and the Ingenuity Helicopter.
It was a cold, chilly, and rainy day in Chicago at the end of February that I was given the amazing opportunity to interview Loay Elbasyouni on Zoom. A huge thank you goes out to Mr. Elbasyouni for his time, interest, insights for this interview, and his great knowledge in explaining the concepts of his role in the successful Perseverance and Ingenuity Landing.
Interview with Loay Elbasyouni:
Claire Boyle (CB): What role(s) did you have in the success of the Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity mission?
Loay Elbasyouni (LE): I was the power and electronics lead on the Mars team where we were contracted by NASA to build the Ingenuity Helicopter. One of my many contributions to the project was to create the inverter. The inverter serves as a controller and provides power between the electric motor and the helicopter’s electrical system.
By far, one of the most difficult things about making the Ingenuity Helicopter was that the power converter had to become the lightest ever to deal with the atmosphere on Mars. This was super-challenging, but super-rewarding when we figured it out.
In 2013, our project began at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which NASA has designated as the place where “robots are created to go where people can’t.”
CB: How did you become interested in working in this field?
LE: I have always been passionate about the concept of alternative energy, especially during our current times. We are seeing a renaissance with electric vehicles, and wind energy via turbines. I have always been interested in how energy has changed over successive generations such as watching Ford make the first car, then move on toward electric transit, and then to our current focus on alternative energy.
CB: Do you think your great work on this project will help facilitate other Palestinian Americans to explore scientific fields? Such as aerospace engineering, etc.? Or in other words, how do you think your success will inspire other Palestinian Americans?
LE: I am from Gaza, and I see my work on this project, as an inspiration to those who want to pursue things that are thought to be impossible. I think this project shows persistence in that if you work hard and do your research, you will succeed. This project was the first-ever helicopter flight to space, and it almost feels like a Wright Brothers moment. By working on this project, I feel that I am helping humanity and that is definitely something I want to be part of.
CB: What advice can you give to young Arab Americans who are interested in working in the field?
LE: My advice to young Arab Americans and everybody else is to always pursue your passions. Another piece of advice that I have is to always work hard. The best job is not the easiest, but rather, is the one that you are passionate about by enjoying your hard work. Finally, be thankful, believe in yourself because only you can control your destiny, and be patient. If things don’t work out immediately, then keep trying, but always remember to have a great work ethic.
CB: How has your heritage influenced you to work in your field?
LE: My heritage has taught me that we need to look for alternative forms of energy to rely on. Currently, we have such a dependence on oil, and due to the politics surrounding it, I realize we need to move away from oil.
CB: On a more personal level, what are 1 or 2 interesting facts about yourself that most people don’t know about you?
LE: Well, people don’t seem to really know that I am a photographer and of course, my work as an engineer. I am also very athletic. In addition, I thoroughly enjoy surfing, biking, hiking, and living by the beach.
CB: What does success mean to you?
LE: Well, first of all, success is a relative term. The definition of success is different for each person. For me, I see being successful as being happy. Throughout my entire life, my goal has always been to be happy. Furthermore, being successful is also having your own passion that gets you excited about it all the time. Finally, success is making something that you yourself can define. As I mentioned previously, my success is being happy and helping humanity.
CB: What is your favorite thing about working in the field/what gets you excited about your work?
LE: I love working in the field of power electronics, especially since it requires one to be knowledgeable with a collection of all the sciences. I also thoroughly enjoy the combination of the theoretical side of my work, which is then coupled with the practical side. My work and the field of power electronics are challenging, but that challenge is also what brings excitement to my life.
In conclusion, it was such an honor to have the opportunity to interview Loay Elbasyouni for this article while also having the opportunity to learn how some of the systems work on the spacecraft that we hear about so often on the news. Elbasyouni’s success will continue to inspire young Arab Americans and others. Finally, it is so exciting to hear about the achievements that Elbasyouni has made by working for NASA!
Arab America congratulates Loay Elbasyouni on his amazing achievement at NASA for having a major contributing role in the successful landing of the Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity Helicopter! We also thank Elbasyouni for being a great representative for the community who continues to inspire Arab Americans everywhere. We wish Loay the best of luck in his future endeavors as well!
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