Lower House panel honors three Fil-Ams in NASA's Mars exploration program

Published August 16, 2021, 6:50 PM

by Ben Rosario

Just like gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz and her batch of Filipino athletes who made history in the Tokyo Olympics, three engineering geniuses made their country proud for contributing in the safe landing of the Perseverance rover on planet Mars last February.

Mars surface

This prompted the House Committee on Science and Technology to unanimously agree on Monday, August 16 to honor the three Filipino-American for the rare distinction they have given the country.

Gregorio G. Villar III, Genevie V. Yang and Edward Gonzales played significant roles in ensuring that Perseverance landed safely in Earth’s next-door space neighbor on February 18, 2021.

Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo said the unusual achievement of the three gifted engineering geniuses has given the Philippines another reason to be proud.

Romulo is the principal author of House Resolution 1611 commending Villar, Yang and Gonzales for what they have achieved as members of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration that has been conducting studies about Mars.

Villar, an operation systems engineer, was also involved in the Curiosity rover, the first nuclear-powered rover that was sent to Mars.

“The main purpose of Curiosity was to determine if life can live on Mars,” Villar was quoted during a talk at the National Institute of Physic at the University of the Philippines in 2016.

In his sponsorship speech o the measure, Roman disclosed that the NASA mission to Mars was launched on July 30, 2020.

The mission, Roman said, was to explore the Jezero Crater in Mars through the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity chopper.

According to Roman a major component of the mission is the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) which required contributions from Villar’s ingenuity and knowledge.

Villar, who headed the verification and validation engineers for the EDL Phase, helped guarantee the rover’s safe landing on Mars on February 18, 2021.

Roman said Villar studied at St. Louis University-Laboratory High School in Baguio City and completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics at the California State Polytechnic University.

The engineering wizard earned a doctorate degree in Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California.

Yang, a native of Biñan City, Laguna, is a flight Systems Engineer at NASA JPL whose family moved to the United States when she was just five years old.

Like Villar, Yang also worked with Curiosity rover in 2012. She is a member of the team that tested the flight software of the Perseverance rover.

Yang also leads the Uplink team to generate commands and strengthen the spacecraft while at launch cruise. 

Romulo said Gonzales is the lead engineer of the Electromagnetic Compatibility team that ensured that the Perseverance was able to collect data and submit them to Earth despite electromagnetic noise.

Born and raised in Oxnard, California, Gonzales has revealed that his parents are from Quezon City and Cavite.

“The idea that people from all sorts of backgrounds can harness their energy and intellect to do hugely challenging things, all in order to give knowledge for all mankind,” Gonzales said when asked what excites him about his job.

“Through this resolution, it is our fervent hope that we inspire the Filipino youth, the Filipinos in fact, who played such an important part in space exploration during this last decade. It is only fitting that the House of the People, the House of Representatives, commend these three geniuses, three explorers of space who serve also as an inspiration to the Philippines,” Romulo said in his sponsorship speech of HR 1611.