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Marietta grad working for NASA

Photo submitted Kristo Kriechbaum stands near a copy of the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012. He has worked for NASA for 15 years.

A 1995 Marietta High School graduate is getting to live out the dream of many kids who look to the stars for inspiration.

Kristo Kriechbaum, who now lives in Altadena, Calif., was “always kind of interested in engineering-type stuff.”

“I enjoyed playing with Legos and Tinker Toys,” he said.

The Mars Pathfinder rover was launched in the mid-1990s, which sparked Kristo’s interest.

“It was tiny, no bigger than a toaster oven,” he explained. “It blew my mind seeing this little robot on another planet millions of miles away.”

After high school, he went on to get his bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., before getting his master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology.

Kristo’s father, Gary Kriechbaum, lived in Marietta for 40 years before moving to Wooster three years ago. He said Kristo was always interested in space.

“Outer space, Star Wars, he had a lot of interest in those things,” he said. “He was always willing to figure out why something worked or why it didn’t.”

Gary said Kristo always knew he wanted to go into engineering, especially the robotics side of mechanical engineering.

“He was very inquisitive … always interested in taking things apart and putting them back together again,” he said.

For the past 15 years, Kristo has worked at NASA, where he is a mechatronics engineer.

“I’ve mostly spent time working on the Curiosity rover and the Perseverance (rover),” Kristo explained. “The big thing for Mars is searching for signs of past life. As the rovers have progressed in size and capability, I think most of the scientists believe it was habitable at some point.”

The size of the rovers have grown in size from the toaster oven-sized Pathfinder to the car-sized Curiosity and Perseverance.

“It’s about the size of a small car, like a Mini Cooper,” he explained.

In his biography on NASA’s website, he notes on the Mars 2020 sampling system, he lead the experimental design and data analysis for the subsystem’s development. He also worked on various proposals for Venus landers and worked on advanced development for a Europa Lander mission.

The sampling subsystem takes core samples from the surface of Mars, puts them in little containers and drops them on the ground, Kristo explained. Two other missions will pick up the containers and send them back to Earth.

“We hope to launch in 2026 or 2028 to pick them up and send them back to Earth,” Kristo noted. “It will still be a little lander and smaller rover to grab the sample tubes. They will be stuck into a small rocket and launch into Mars’ orbit.”

He said the third mission will grab the “basketball-sized” capsule from orbit and send it back to Earth. These missions are in the early phases.

“It’s still just amazing to think there’s this piece of hardware I’ve touched in a clean room is now hundreds of thousands of miles away on another planet,” Kristo said. “It doesn’t get old.”

He enjoys his job because every problem is unique and there’s a huge team of people to work with.

“We all have that common goal of making these awesome robots to explore planets and moons,” Kristo replied.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

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