Page 24 - BusinessWest April 28, 2021
P. 24

Prepared for Launch
Lead Engineer on NASA’s Perseverance Mission Started at HCC
NBy Laurie Loisel
ot many people can say they’ve worked on every U.S.-led rover mission to Mars. One who can is David Gruel, a Holyoke
Community College graduate from the class of 1991.
Five years out of HCC, Gruel was part of the Pathfinder mission that landed the Sojourner rover on Mars, the second Mars mission since
“I still have an incredible memory of the math and physics professors at HCC, and it was mutual. They went out of their way to know their students and to figure out where they could help.”
the Viking became the first-ever U.S. mission to Mars in 1975. Sojourner had limited movement when compared to other rovers (most recently Perseverance) that travel across the planet, but it was a milestone nonetheless.
“Pathfinder was the return to the red planet
some 20 years after Viking,” he said of the rover that launched in December 1996, landing on Mars in July 1997.
After that, through his job as an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Gruel was among the crews working on the Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance NASA rover missions.
Considering that Gruel falls into a category
of people for whom the maxim “it’s not rocket science” most definitely does not apply, the 50-year-old is modest and candid about his high-school years as an avid underachiever. He is equally clear about the role HCC played in put- ting him on a path to a career in rocket science. In fact, he flat-out declares that, if not for HCC, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
As a student at Westfield High School, Gruel spent more energy stocking grocery-store shelves, tending to the car those earnings bought him, and socializing with his friends than on aca- demics. “I was looking for the easy road out at all times,” he admits.
After graduation, when many of his friends headed off to four-year colleges, Gruel continued working in the grocery store. “And then I realized I needed a different challenge in life,” he said.
That’s how he ended up at Holyoke Com- munity College. Despite a less-than-stellar high-
David Gruel stands next to the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center on July 29, 2020, the day before NASA’ s Perseverance rover mission launch.
         Creating Beautiful Landscapes Since 1979
Creating Beautiful Landscapes Since 1979
  Design & Build
• Parks
• Playgrounds
• Athletic Fields
• Irrigation
• Patios
• Walkways • Retaining
• Hydroseeding
& Bark Blowing
• Hadley, Massachusetts •
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