I just finished watching the keynote speaker at a local stop of the EDA Tech Forum, a Dr. Steve Chien of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. What made his keynote address so interesting was not that Dr. Chien was a great speaker, which he was, it was the topic: Move Over HAL – Autonomous Spacecraft. The concept is using artificial intelligence to control space craft when communication with earth is far too slow. The details of the AI implementation was not really discussed in talk, but that did not stop most people walk away with a good impression of the presentation.

There’s something about space that gets engineers fired up. Space is where technology and engineering is king. There are undoubtably many political and monetary discussions in the lead-up to approving a space-related project at NASA. But once the budget is approved and the project is rolling, the engineers take over. Engineers are creating the vehicle that humans will interface with the far reaches of the unknown. Who knows, maybe that same vehicle will be the first to reach extra-terrestrial life.

But that doesn’t mean that the engineers who work on large space-related projects are that different from the rest of the world’s engineers. We all face interesting and unique problems, and need to solve them within budget and on-time.

One part of the Dr. Chien’s presentation was a video about the Mars Rover’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL). A very good video, it was actually put together in 2003 before the first Mars Rover landings. The video includes narration by the engineers who worked on the system. It’s interesting to hear them excitedly explain the systems they’ve created.

So I think it’s a good idea to watch this video, and be inspired. Engineers sometimes need to be reminded to be excited about what they do, and how important their job really is.