Pinoy included in NASA's Mars mission crew

Posted at 08/13/12 6:30 PM

Operations systems engineer Gregory Galgana Villar III worked on the mission to Mars. Photo courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

MANILA, Philippines – While media has largely focused its attention on “Mohawk Man” Bobak Ferdowski during last week's successful Mars landing of the NASA rover Curiosity, a Filipino was among those who were celebrating the agency’s latest achievement.

Filipino Gregory Galgana Villar III is one of NASA’s youngest engineers on the rover mission.

After enduring the now-famous “seven minutes of terror,” the 25-year-old Villar and nearly 100 NASA employees celebrated at a nearby bar, according to a report by website The Huffington Post.

“It was unreal,” he told The Huffington Post over the phone. “I couldn't hold myself back -- we were jumping up and down, hugging each other, tearing up.”

And after Curiosity released its first batch of photos from the red planet, “we were just blown away once again,” he said.

Baguio student

Although Villar was born and raised in Long Beach, California, he attended high school at St. Louis University in Baguio City, where his parents are from.

According to the website, Villar has been working for NASA since he was a junior at Cal Poly Pomona. He now works as an operations systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

In an interview with Montrose-La Crescenta Patch before the Mars landing, Villar said he is part of the team that will operate Curiosity in Mars.

“After Curiosity lands, I will be part of the surface operations team as a Science Planner. I will be facilitating the daily planning process where scientists and engineers decide what we want the rover to do next,” he told the Patch.

According to Villar, he has been involved with Curiosity since January 2011.

“Over the past year and a half, I have put in about 4,000 hours of work on Curiosity and I feel this was time well spent. Witnessing a successful mission like the Mars Science Laboratory will increase support from the decision makers in Washington for future missions,” he added.

Villar told The Huffington Post that part of Curiosity’s mission is “to spark more questions about science and engineering among America’s youth, as well as show political leaders that NASA is still worth funding.”

“I hope that it will continue to inspire people and show decision makers in our government that these types of missions are essential to our progression as humans,” Villar told the website. “And I hope the youth are inspired.”