Steamboat man makes history as part of team to land rover on Mars
Dustin Buccino has loved airplanes for as long as he can remember. He always thought about them as a child and hoped that one day he would get to work with them — maybe even help design them.
It was in his aerospace dynamics class during his senior year of college at University of Colorado Boulder when he set a new goal: to navigate aircrafts in space.
Buccino, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, earned his bachelor’s degree in 2012 and accepted an internship with NASA. He then took a full-time job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California, working as a signal analysis engineer.
Still, Buccino had never imagined he’d have the chance to guide a spacecraft to Mars. But on Thursday, Buccino helped make history.
Buccino assisted the team that guided NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars and made history with capturing the first audio recording on the Martian planet.
“It was quite a unique and unforgettable experience,” Buccino said. “During my internship in 2012, I got to watch the previous Mars rover land, and I was just a witness to it back then. Now I’m doing the work I was watching them do.”
Buccino compared his job to turning a dial on a car’s radio. Each spacecraft radiates a signal to Earth, and Buccino essentially turns the dial to hear that audio. What he hears helps him to gauge the spacecraft’s health and position.
“For Mars, we tracked audio signal sent from the space craft to Earth and used dishes around the planet to listen to signal while it’s landing,” Buccino added.
The Perseverance rover’s main job is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and soil for possible return to Earth, according to NASA’s website. It launched from Earth on July 30 and made a successful landing Feb. 18.
Buccino has worked on 11 missions, including detecting small changes in Jupiter’s gravitational force.
“In my mind, I’m still on the emotional high of witnessing (the Mars mission). It’s such a special thing,” he said.
Sue Hansen, Buccino’s mother, remembers him being very intelligent from a young age.
Hansen recalled taking a 10-years-old Buccino to a local thrift store, and while she was shopping for clothing, he had found a box of computer parts in a back corner of the store. By the time Hansen was finished shopping, Buccino had built a working computer out of parts from the box, she remembered.
“Even at a very young child, when he would get into something, he would get into it so deep and learn so much about it,” Hansen said. “I knew from a very young age that he was highly intelligent, and we had to give him enough things to keep his mind occupied.”
Hansen also remembers Buccino crossing his fingers for an internship with NASA, though the two wanted to be realistic, as such opportunities were extremely competitive. Buccino received his acceptance notification while home for Thanksgiving, and Hansen said it was a moment the family will never forget.
“As a parent, watching your children get their dream job is just over-the-top exciting,” Hansen said. “I couldn’t be prouder, and I just am so grateful that he’s doing exactly what he wanted to do and is making a difference in the world.”
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