Cody Howard
School of Engineering

Student helps with Mars rover database

Mon, 09/16/2013

LAWRENCE — Massive amounts of data generated by the Mars rover Curiosity can pose a challenge for the NASA scientists and engineers tasked with the daily operations of the spacecraft. Each day Curiosity is on the Martian surface, the NASA team learns more about how the rover responds to commands and how to control it with more precision. 

That leads to an enormous accumulation of data that provides a valuable roadmap for an engineer looking for specific details on how Curiosity performed during a certain task. The challenge to ensure operations run efficiently has been locating those details in a scattered patchwork of individual workstations or stockpiled in diverse computer servers

Enter Ryan Endres. The University of Kansas School of Engineering student from DeSoto spent the summer of 2013 as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., compiling this data and writing computer code to create a searchable, centralized database readily available for NASA engineers seeking specific information on any of the rover’s previous activities.

“I created a wiki page and wrote several programs that allow users to easily search data on every aspect of Curiosity’s operations,” Endres said. “Say a user wants to know how far the rover drove on a certain day. They scan use-cases for mobility, which provides them with a specific link. They click on it, and all that information is right there. The programs link to several locations, so a user can find information in several ways from different places. It’s simple and easy.” 

Endres’ program continuously pulls the latest data from Curiosity, ensuring the most recent information is readily available for the project team. 

“The rover project could go on for a decade. If you’re a worker who comes in during year four, you won’t know the history of what the rover did, or the commands that ran it, so by providing this database, that worker can easily search for all the different data sets and tailor the information to their needs,” Endres said.

Endres, a junior in aerospace engineering, was one of 500 students from colleges across the nation selected to participate in JPL’s summer internship program. He spent 10 weeks writing code and testing the computer programs for Curiosity’s searchable database. A connection through a long-time family friend helped him get a foot in the door, but Endres is quick to credit a well-rounded experience at KU for helping land the internship.

“They told me if they were just interested in getting students with a 4.0 grade point average, they could go to the California Institute of Technology (which is less than 10 miles from JPL) and get a bunch of them,” Endres said. “But they want to see that you take initiative, that you have interests outside of school, that you’re well-rounded and you’re becoming a leader. So from the SELF Program, to being president of the KU chapter of Engineers Without Borders, to running marathons – they were impressed with all that I’d done at KU. I’ve got a diverse background, and that’s important.”

Endres spent about 30 hours a week on his programming projects and the other 10 on a variety of tasks, including networking and listening to speakers.

“They really encourage student bonding and participation in the JPL community. They do a lot of little things to make it a great experience,” Endres said. “There were also wonderful networking opportunities. I was encouraged to meet engineers from a variety of disciplines to get a sense of their daily responsibilities in order to help me later on as I prepare to make career choices.”

The 500 students at JPL for the summer came from a variety of the hard sciences, not just engineering.  And while many of them were from some of the most elite schools in the country, Endres said his time KU had him prepared to make significant contributions.

“I matched up well with people there. I knew how to do things or how to approach situations from a leadership standpoint that other people didn’t,” Endres said. “We might not be a top five school in the rankings, but what we have here at KU is really special. The experiences here are what make people so excited about being a Jayhawk. It made me see that this is an extremely rare and special place.” 

Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: #KULibraries #KUWorks…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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