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Photo of Edward Tunstel
   Edward Tunstel

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

Persevere through the years of study needed to achieve your career goals. Find out about the experiences of successful people in your fields of interest. Understand and keep abreast of what is happening at the professional level so that you are prepared to compete and succeed after graduating. Finally, do your best to chart a course towards work that you think you will enjoy.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Perhaps the most challenging part of my job is dealing with not being able to work on all of the very interesting projects that we pursue. Working on multiple projects at a time can be a challenge itself, but having an interest in even more than those you are working on can sometimes increase the challenge.

What is unique about your job?

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There are only a "handful" of engineers on Earth who do what I do. I have opportunities to conceive and develop new ideas and approaches for exploring other planetary bodies using many different types of robot systems. And on occasion, those ideas mature and come to life in the form of a real mission that I get to participate on by helping to operate robotic spacecraft and influence the way they are actually used to explore.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be involved in art somehow. Later, in high school, that desire manifested itself as a desire to become an architect (no doubt influenced to some degree by the architecture I grew up around in New York City). Also in high school, I became aware of my ability for analytical thinking and fondness for solving analytical problems. This led me toward the choice of engineering as major area of study in college. Then came my exposure to robotics at Howard University, which has captured my imagination ever since. When I graduated, I was interested in applying robotic solutions to challenging problems of automation -- and what better place is there than NASA for finding challenging problems?

Describe the human side of robotic exploration.

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Humans are the source of the scientific questions that we seek answers to by using robots as surrogate explorers. Human imagination, inquisitiveness, creativity, and ingenuity are at the core of robotic exploration. And indeed, robotic technology is still far from being capable of space exploration without human guidance. Until humans can go where only robots can now, we will continue to rely on robots to explore challenging environments. Our robots and robotic spacecraft will continue to get smarter and more capable. However, they will always be a form of electro-mechanical embodiment for a human agenda, whether operating alone (and reporting to humans) or as partners.

Edward Tunstel:
  Background Information
  Contributions to Mars Exploration
  Personal Reflections