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Son of Claremorris woman part of Mars Rover Mission

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Gerry Walsh testing Radar Modules at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
IMPORTANT ROLE Gerry Walsh testing Radar Modules at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Son of Claremorris woman features in Mars Rover Mission


Michael Commins


THE American Space Programme has been much in the news over the last two weeks with the Mars Rover landing on the planet and the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to put foot on the moon. Not many will be aware of a Claremorris connection with the Mars project, deemed one of the most successful space odysseys in years.
Gerry Walsh, who has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1988, is son of Patricia (Patsy), formerly Donlon from Lower James Street, Claremorris. Her brother Christy resides in Killoshine, Ballinrobe with his wife Chris.
Remarkably, just days after the successful landing of the Mars mission, Patsy died at the family home in Los Angeles. The Donlon family had close ties with CIE in Claremorris in former years.
For Gerry and all the NASA team, the landing of the Mars Rover (Curiosity) on the surface of the planet was a cause of major jubilation. Many scientists played various roles in the team project.
Gerry is delighted with the success of the Mars venture. “I’ve been working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since I got a Summer job here (while in college) in 1988.  I was 21 then. I worked here part-time from 1988 to 1998 while studying Electrical Engineering at California State University, Pomona - where I earned my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) degree - emphasizing in radio frequency and microwave communication system design.
“I’ve worked on various programs over all the years but mostly on the Deep Space Network (the big antennas, in California, Spain, and Australia). However, when JPL was building the latest Mars Rover, I was given the opportunity to help work with the landing radar. I came in about two years into the project and joined the team who was building the landing radar component that transmitted and received high frequency microwave pulses at the ground.
To land the rover, there were six of these transmit/receive modules on-board the descent stage.  Each with its respective antenna tipped slightly at a different angle so that no matter how much the rover swayed around, there would always be an antenna looking at the ground.
“Fortunately, all worked out okay and Curiosity is safely on Mars. Our landing radar did its job and now is a pile of junk laying on the surface of Mars for some future human to sift through some day.”
* Patsy is survived by her son Gerry and daughter Bernadette (Los Angeles), son-in-law Roberta and three grandchildren, brother Christy in Ballinrobe and sister Nuala in California.