Roger and Gwen Wiens with their sons, Carson, left, and Isaac in a Valentine’s Day photo at their Los Alamos home. Courtesy photo
Watching the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars Thursday from their Los Alamos home are, from right, Isaac Wiens, Roger Wiens, Carson Wiens and his wife, Rachel Wiens. Not pictured is Gwen Wiens who took the photo. Photo by Gwen Wiens
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It was a busy week for Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow and planetary scientist Roger Wiens, principal investigator for the SuperCam and its predecessor ChemCam and his family. The Los Alamos Reporter checked in with his wife, Gwen Wiens, to get her take on the excitement at their home surrounding the arrival of the Perseverance rover with SuperCam on board. Roger and Gwen were joined by their sons, Carson and Isaac as well as Carson’s wife Rachel to watch the event
Gwen said Roger spent Wednesday afternoon doing eight TV interviews and a newspaper interview in the space of just over two hours.
“On Thursday – Landing Day- Roger began his day with an all-hands team chat on Webex, where I was introduced and thanked by one of the team members for ‘loaning’ Roger to them for the last 20 years,” Gwen said. “Thanks to Covid, we got to have him with us for this landing event, and he said that it was the best time ever.”
All of Roger’s other NASA landing events have been either at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology or at the landing site, in Utah, for example for the Genesis capsule.
“We watched the famous ‘seven minutes of terror’ together, marking the milestones as the capsule and then rover descended. We were so nervous, since not all of the missions that Roger was involved in have landed safely. But the moment that the safe landing was confirmed, we all jumped up and high-fived each other, hardly daring to believe it was true until we saw the first picture from Mars, four minutes later. We now have another fantastic place to explore on Mars!” Gwen said.
After the landing, Roger had another interview with CNES, the French Space Agency’s program.
“They wanted to know how our two countries have worked together as equal partners in these projects for nearly 20 years. Not many people are aware of this on-going international collaboration in Mars research and how it got started here at LANL,” Gwen said. “For the Curiosity landing, Roger was at JPL with his French colleague and project lead, Sylvestre Maurice. The two guys are the best of friends and usually talk by phone most days.”
Maurice is the deputy principal investigator for SuperCam at the Institut de Recherche Astrophysique et Planétologie, in Toulouse, France. Gwen said while it was strange for them to be in separate locations for the Perseverance landing, it was for very good reason.
“Sylvestre actually had a private, half-hour meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and they watched the landing together. Both the French and U.S. instrument development teams are to be congratulated for their amazing success,” she said.
In 2016, Roger was awarded the honorary title of chevalier (knight) in France’s Academic Order of Palms for his work in forging strong ties between the French and American scientific communities.
Several hours later, she said the operations team was already busy, as the rover beamed up nearly 35 megabytes of images and data. The SuperCam team confirmed that the instrument was at the proper temperature, and engineers sent up commands to do the instrument’s first “aliveness test” on the Red Planet.
In the evening, members of the LANL Perseverance and the Bradbury Science Museum hosted a virtual landing after- party watched by more than 300 people with nuclear engineer Jeff Favorite as the party emcee. See https://losalamosreporter.com/2021/02/19/perseverance-rover-landing-virtual-after-party-a-big-hit/.