From fleeing Cambodia to helping build Mars rover, NASA’s JPL engineer embodies ‘perseverance’

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The bird-chirp alarm in Ny Sou Okon’s Pasadena home went off at 4 a.m. Thursday morning, July 30, signaling to her 8-year-old and 4-year-old sons that it was time to wake up.

The day had come.

The boys climbed out of bed and met their parents in the living room. Okon’s older son still squinted at the light.

The family sat on the sofa and tuned into YouTube Live on the television above their fireplace. They set up a laptop on the coffee table, where Okon and her husband logged into a digital viewing party.

Together, the Okon family — along with nearly 2 million others across the country and the world — watched a livestream of the launch of the Perseverance rover, headed for Mars from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

An announcer narrated the countdown.

“8, 7, 6, 5 … “

A thin trail of steam seeped out of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on which the rover was perched.

“4, engine ignition, 2, 1, 0.”

A cloud of smoke swelled underneath the rocket, billowing south into the lush forest surrounding the station.

“And liftoff.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth Thursday, July 30,2020. FL/USA. Kennedy Space Center(KSC) The flight will take seven months and the rover Perseverance will land in February 2021. (Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer) 

The rocket’s trail of fire propelled it upwards, the Atlantic Ocean to the east falling out of view. It soared through the cloudless blue sky at 6,000 miles per hour.

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“The perseverance of humanity,” the announcer declared, is “launching the next generation of robotic explorers to the red planet.”

For space aficionados across the world, the spectacle was one to celebrate.

For the Okon family, it was a personal achievement.

Okon and her husband, both engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spent years helping to build the Perseverance.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, they couldn’t attend the launch in person. But their viewing party — comprising their teammates and colleagues who had also devoted much of their careers to that moment — was almost a sufficient stand-in.

“Both our boys were very excited,” Okon said. “It’s been part of our family conversation for so long, so it’s just a joyous and exciting moment for us as a family.”

And for Okon in particular — whose life and family narrative embodies perseverance — the launch held special meaning.

Nearly 50 years before Perseverance shot into the sky, Okon’s parents launched their own journey into the unknown:

They fled by night from their home in Cambodia, some 9,000 miles from Cape Canaveral, to Vietnam, the closest refuge.

The Khmer Rouge, a totalitarian regime that would later commit one of the deadliest genocides of the 20th century, was rising to power.

Under the Khmer Rouge’s four-year reign, from 1975-1979, up to 3 million people — or one-third of the country’s population — would be killed in mass executions or because of the poor conditions in forced labor …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

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