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Meet Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, Ghanaian Scientist Behind NASA’s Mars Rovers Design

Ghanaian Scientist Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu is the chief engineer of a team formed to design robots for NASA missions at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, United States.

Ashitey who founded the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation a non-profit volunteer organization hoping to “pioneer science education through administering hands-on robotics workshops and competitions throughout Ghana for Junior Secondary Schools, Senior Secondary Schools and Colleges” has not only worked on the Phoenix aircraft that found water on Mars in 2008 but also contributed to the Mars Exploration Rover project in 2003 and the Mars Science Laboratory in 2011.

The engineer is currently leading the team behind the system of the craft used in NASA’s InSight mission to Mars. He also designed the robotic arm, which will dig deep beneath the surface of the planet to see explore how it was formed

Trebi-Ollennu’s interest in space craft developed when he was growing up in Ghana.

“I lived very close to the airport, so I was very interested in aircraft flying and I always dreamt of taking humans out of the cockpit and making computers fly,” he said.

He kicked his interest up a notch by reading literature about the “glass cockpit” for commercial and military aircraft. The concept behind the theory involved making “machines, such as aircrafts, smarter so they can fly themselves; or make it easier for humans to operate them.”

Born in Ghana, Trebi-Ollennu attended a primary school in Burma Camp and later the Ghana Secondary Technical School. He earned his bachelor of Engineering in avionics at the Queen Mary College, the University of London in 1991. He continued his education at the Royal Military College Science located at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, earning his PhD in 1996.

At Carnegie Mellon University where he was a research scholar, he formulated a system for All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) for distributed tactical surveillance for (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) DARPA.

Throug the course of his career, he has won many awards such as the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal (2008); Sir Monty Finniston Achievement Medal (2007) for outstanding technical contribution to any field of Engineering from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET); Outstanding Engineer Award (2007); JPL Mariner Award from MER for outstanding leadership in the analysis and resolution of the IDD unstow anomaly on Opportunity rover (2006); NASA Group Achievement Award-Mars Exploration Rover Avionics Team (2004); and the NASA Group Achievement Award-Mars Exploration Rover Flight System, Management and Engineering Team (2004) to name a few.

Trebi-Ollennu is expertise and excellence has not gone unnoticed as he’s one of the few keeping the African light shinning in Science and technology.

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