From Myanmar to Planet Mars

From Myanmar to Planet Mars


MiMi Aung is no stranger to historic firsts. She was raised in Burma (now Myanmar), where her mother was the first woman in the country to earn a doctorate in mathematics. On April 19, Aung served as team lead for NASA’s first helicopter flight on Mars.

It “was an incredible moment,” Aung said of Ingenuity’s 39-second flight, which is drawing comparisons to the Wright brothers’ first flight on Earth in 1903 for its promise for future discovery and innovation. “This morning our dream came true.”

MiMi Aung, project leader of NASA's Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Project, observes a flight test with JPL engineers Teddy Tzanetos (left) and Bob Balaram.   NASA/JPL-Caltech
MiMi Aung, project leader of NASA's Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Project, observes a flight test with JPL engineers Teddy Tzanetos (left) and Bob Balaram. NASA/JPL-Caltech


Ingenuity arrived on Mars on March 18, as part of NASA’s Perseverance rover’s mission to search for signs of ancient life and collect rocks and sediment for future missions to return to Earth. The helicopter carries a small piece of material from the Wright brothers’ plane on its mission.

Aung came to the United States at 16 and studied engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her parents had met at the university and Aung was born in the United States, though her family returned to Burma when she was 2 years old.

Her mother taught her a love of math and a rigorous approach to problem-solving. As a child, Aung asked her mother for the answer to a frustrating math problem, and her mother’s response carried a lesson in self-reliance and determination: “Never, never ask me for a shortcut.”

After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering, Aung went to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. She worked on the Deep Space Network for communicating with spacecraft and later on autonomous flight systems.

As project manager of NASA’s Mars Helicopter Project, Aung oversees the diverse team that designed, built, tested and flew Ingenuity. She grew up in Burma, and other team members include chief engineer Bob Balaram, originally from India, and pilot Håvard Grip, originally from Norway.

Mimi Aung | Popsci
Mimi Aung | Popsci

The team tackled complex challenges, such as how to fly in a Martian atmosphere that is so thin that Aung compares it to air on Earth at an “elevation three times the height of the Himalayas.” So Ingenuity is light, a mere 1.8 kilograms, with blades that rotate more than 2,500 times per minute.

Ingenuity will make several more flights in the coming weeks to gather data and inform future helicopter missions to explore the red planet.

NASA Acting Administrator Stephen G. Jurczyk credits Aung’s leadership with making Ingenuity’s mission possible. “Her excitement and enthusiasm for making this happen was infectious,” he said.

Working at NASA is “a privilege and just an enormous opportunity I value every day,” Aung says. “Being that little girl in Myanmar, I had no idea if I would ever be in another country, or let alone be a part of a community that’s actively” exploring space.

By  | 25 April, 2021

Akhyari Hananto

I began my career in the banking industry in 1997, and stayed approx 6 years in it. This industry boost his knowledge about the economic condition in Indonesia, both macro and micro, and how to More understand it. My banking career continued in Yogyakarta when I joined in a program funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB),as the coordinator for a program aimed to help improve the quality of learning and teaching process in private universities in Yogyakarta. When the earthquake stroke Yogyakarta, I chose to join an international NGO working in the area of ?disaster response and management, which allows me to help rebuild the city, as well as other disaster-stricken area in Indonesia. I went on to become the coordinator for emergency response in the Asia Pacific region. Then I was assigned for 1 year in Cambodia, as a country coordinator mostly to deliver developmental programs (water and sanitation, education, livelihood). In 2009, he continued his career as a protocol and HR officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, and two years later I joined the Political and Economic Section until now, where i have to deal with extensive range of people and government officials, as well as private and government institution troughout eastern Indonesia. I am the founder and Editor-in-Chief in Good News From Indonesia (GNFI), a growing and influential social media movement, and was selected as one of The Most Influential Netizen 2011 by The Marketeers magazine. I also wrote a book on "Fundamentals of Disaster Management in 2007"?, "Good News From Indonesia : Beragam Prestasi Anak Bangsa di dunia"? which was luanched in August 2013, and "Indonesia Bersyukur"? which is launched in Sept 2013. In 2014, 3 books were released in which i was one of the writer; "Indonesia Pelangi Dunia"?, "Indonesia The Untold Stories"? and "Growing! Meretas Jalan Kejayaan" I give lectures to students in lectures nationwide, sharing on full range of issues, from economy, to diplomacy Less
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