The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

October 26, 2012

Rockford native works on Mars rover

ROCKFORD, Ill. — When he was 12 years old, Dan Scharf was watching TV in his Rockford home and saw images that Voyager 2 had captured looking back into the solar system from past Uranus.

His reaction was somewhat akin to John Belushi's character in "The Blues Brothers," when Jake Elwood had a light-guided epiphany about getting the band back together.

Scharf said he had a "momentous feeling" as the spacecraft flew by Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. "My whole body and soul were saying, 'This is the path to follow.' "

In August, Scharf, 39, senior engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said he experienced a "total dream come true" when the Mini Cooper-sized Curiosity rover landed on Mars. The project signifies a new era of exploration aimed at discovering if Mars has the building blocks needed for life.

The 1991 graduate of Rockford's Boylan Catholic High School was in charge of the guidance, navigation and control — that is the "spacecraft reflexes" — for the backup landing system. That backup system would have taken over steering for the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft to hit its landing target, if there had been any problems with the primary landing system.

On one side of the 15-mile-around landing target 150 million miles from Earth was a two-mile-high crater wall. On the other was a three-mile-tall mountain in the middle of the crater. "We hit the sweet spot," Scharf said.

The seven-minute landing went so well, the backup system that took Scharf and the rest of the backup team a year to develop wasn't needed. Then, after landing, the backup system deleted itself to make room for the rover driving instructions, he said. "I liken it to parenting a teenager," Scharf said. "Your job is to be there, if needed, but hopefully, you're not needed."

Text Only
Top News
  • 10 things to know for today

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

    April 23, 2014

  • Iowa State says data breach could affect thousands

    The Social Security numbers of nearly 30,000 people who enrolled at Iowa State University over a 17-year period were exposed in a data breach, school officials announced Tuesday.

    Five information technology servers on the Ames campus were hacked, and those servers contained the Social Security numbers of people who took certain classes at the school between 1995 and 2012, ISU officials said in a news release. There is no evidence that any of the personal files were accessed, the school said, and the records didn't contain student financial information.

    April 22, 2014

  • Iowa woman arrested after child falls from window

    A Manchester woman has been arrested after her toddler fell from a second-story apartment window.

    The Manchester Police Department says 27-year-old Stacy Neuhaus was arrested Monday in Iowa City. She faces charges of child endangerment. Court records do not list an attorney.

    April 22, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 4.42.47 PM.png VIDEO: Leopard attacks crowd in India

    A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Basketball stars may linger on campus a while longer

    The NBA seems serious about raising its minimum age, which could signal the end of the one-and-done era in college basketball.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AGENDA: 4-24-14 Easton Valley Board of Education Special Meeting

    The Easton Valley Community School District Board of Education will hold a special meeting April 24 at 6 p.m. at the Easton Valley Elementary School.

    April 22, 2014

  • 'Piles and piles' of bodies in S. Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen in South Sudan who targeted civilians including children and the elderly left "piles and piles" of bodies, many of them in a mosque and a hospital, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    Toby Lanzer told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday that the ethnically targeted killings in a provincial capital are "quite possibly a game-changer" for a conflict that has been raging since mid-December and that has exposed longstanding ethnic hostilities.

    April 22, 2014

AP Video