Rebekah Sosland remembers the first time she saw the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity touch down on the Martian surface 10 years ago. She was 14, in the eighth grade in Fredericksburg, Texas, and watching the momentous event unfold on television as classmates around her chatted and passed notes.
"I saw this big bouncing popcorn thing on this red surface, and a voice said we now had two rovers on Mars," Sosland recalls. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, we have a rover on another planet?' I had no idea that was really going on."
What Sosland didn't know then was that 10 years later, Opportunity, originally scheduled for a three-month mission, would still be roving the Red Planet, providing key information on the presence of potentially life-sustaining water — or that she herself would play a vital role in its mission.
Today, Sosland works as an engineer at JPL. As the tactical downlink lead for Opportunity, she sends commands to the rover and then tracks its progress by analyzing the data it sends back to Earth from about 140 million miles away. Despite her interest in space, Sosland never imagined being part of an actual space mission.