The 28-year-old compatriot was in charge of quality control in processes prior to the launch of the Perseverance Mission, including the assembly of the rocket aimed at the red planet.
Thursday July 30, 2020, at 7:50 am Florida time, USA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made history again with the launch of the Perseverance Mission to Mars and the compatriot Oscar Roberto Paniagua Morales he was there on the front line as a crucial part of it.
Nervous and almost about to cry, as he himself recounts, saw how in a matter of seconds, minutes, the fruit of four years of intense work, the ship that carries the robot rover Perseverance, went imposingly into space towards the also called red planet, with success.
Paniagua Morales, originally from San Salvador, is part of the NASA team and it works there as quality control engineer. As part of her job she has to do with all parts of the ships, is present in the room of assembly and during testing, to validate that everything is working, that everything is going to work.
“My job is to make sure the engineers and the technicians and all the scientists are doing the indicated processes, who are following them to the letter. I have to go through the procedures that we use to assemble or to test and basically make sure that everything is fine and it’s going to be fine, ”he said.
The engineer, the son of two doctors, spent most of his basic and high school education at the Pan American School and only for one year in the Salvadoran High School, two institutions in his native El Salvador, he indicated during an interview via Zoom. Upon graduating from high school, back in 2001, motivated by his father who previously left for the United States, the young man also migrated to that nation with his student visa, ready to pursue a university degree.
According to what he said, this was how he studied two years at the University of Texas at El Paso, then transferred to the University of Texas, en Austin, of which it was received in 2015 as a mechanical engineer. He also carried out an exchange at the Royal Technological Institute of Stockholm, in Sweden.
Óscar Paniagua, who at first wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps, says that he leaned towards mechanical engineering always motivated by his parents, siblings and teachers, but also by the fact that “In school I always had a knack for science and math.”
There was a time when he cherished the idea of studying automotive design, but after seeing what that industry was like and the opportunities he had ended up interested in the area of automotive space, of commercial flights.
He explained that arriving at the University of Texas, in Austin, meant the key to job opportunities because they do enough job fairs to which many companies come together.
His first work experience was in General Electric, in the aviation area, where he covered three summers as an intern. In his last semester of university, sure of the experience gained, he decided to look for a full-time job. Another college job fair was the one that led him at NASA, where he entered but not before handing out several resumes, sorting through a series of interviews and meetings, including one he had in California in which he was convinced of his choice.
“(On Friday, August 7) there was another rocket launch and I was thinking… I never imagined as a child, in El Salvador, that I would be here helping launch rockets, missions to Mars, I never imagined”Said Oscar, whose parents and siblings are more than proud of him.
The Salvadoran said that it is nice to think about his childhood and what he lived in El Salvador because that reminds him of where he comes from “and that motivates me to perform better, give a better role as a Salvadoran here”.
This professional said that since October 2016 to date he has worked full time on the Mars 2020 Mission, which is the Perseverance robot, although he has also done the same before with a satelite that is in the orbit of the Earth monitoring levels of carbon dioxide to help combat climate change; in another that monitors the level of humidity of the plants, forests and jungles always on our planet; and two satellites that are being used to generate a earth gravity field map.
He stated that regarding the Mars Mission 2020 “I was involved in three main areas of the project: one that is the thermal energy rejection system, which is a system of tubes and pumps that circulate refrigerants through the house and through the robot to keep it at a good temperature. Another (area) I worked on was in the system used for collect and store Martian soil and rock samples, what is the main mission. In those two areas I was the leader of the quality control team. I was the point of contact to solve problems or give as my stamp of approval, to say that this system is ready to launch or to operate on Mars”.
The third area of the project Perseverance in which the engineer was in the provision of support to the launch operations at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This implies, as detailed, working with the entire ship, with the rocket, which happens in a fairly tall building.
“I was (also) part of the last operation that was to install the power supply (in the ship). Then I stayed to see the live launch which was quite an incredible opportunity. I was really nervous to be honest, because the rockets are scary that something is going to go wrong and after so many years we have been working on it, but thank God Everything went smoothly“, Held.
The Salvadoran said that at the time of launch, seeing that everything worked, was gratifying, because that is when they realize that all the hard work, the nights that he didn’t sleep much, which was stressed, it was worth it.
“You feel proud to have done it, to have persevered”, as the name of the mission indicates.
As he commented, despite the issue of the pandemic they did not stop stopping, they couldn’t do itThey all did their part, some from their home and others in Florida, where they were unable to see their family.
He told that they had a window to launch, which opened between July 17 and closed on August 15, but they had to be delayed two weeks as a precaution, because there were COVID-19 cases on staff.
He argued that getting to the launch was a tough road they worked on shifts of twelve hours each. However, when the day came everyone was impressed “Because we launched to the exact second, the weather was perfect, the launch was clean, everything went well, even the separation of the ship.”
Regarding what he likes most about his work, he stressed that there are two parts: one, the work with the ship because it is present when everything important happens, which allows it to be part of something historical, where it is critical to ensure that you do not make mistakes. Also, “my other favorite part is that as a leading quality control engineer I have to give as my signature to approve that something is ready to go to Mars. That is quite important to me ”.
Óscar Roberto, who to his 28 years He is humble despite the great experience he has already accumulated, he said he is ready to assume his role in new projects of the Agency that are in doors. One that interests you a lot is a mission called Europe and will be directed to explore on the planet Jupiter, where there is a possibility that there is microbial life under the ice sheets.
“As a professional, as a human being, I want to continue making progress, keep watching how can i contribute more, how can I apply my talents, my knowledge, everything I learned in this mission to help make the next successful mission, and to be able to have a better position and always put the name of El Salvador as high as possible “, he detailed.
According to what was stated by Paniagua Morales, who said he is quite passionate about everything that has to do with space and the universe, when he relates to people and finds out that he is from El Salvador they are impressed, because perhaps they don’t know many people in our country in aerospace work.
Another of the dreams of the Salvadoran engineer is to one day be able to help other generations, mentoring Hispanic children either in the United States or in El Salvador, in order to influence or inspire them to pursue these types of opportunities, because they are quite rewarding.
He exhorts the young compatriots to always be attentive to all the opportunities that come their way at school, in high school, not to let them pass because they think they are not qualified, because that is not true; to have confidence in themselves, in their talents and interestsbecause there are always opportunities to seek scholarships and help. He is a living example.