February 6, 2024
NASA Lead Principal Engineer
Kobie Boykins is a lead principal engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where he oversees the research, development, and design of NASA’s most ambitious engineering projects. In nearly three decades at the lab, he has worked on every Mars mission since Pathfinder, which took the first Rover, “Sojourner,” to Mars, in 1996. Later, Boykins designed the solar arrays that powered the record-breaking Mars Exploration Rovers, “Spirit” and “Opportunity.” These Rovers were designed to determine if the potential for life exists on Mars, to characterize the Mars climate and its geology, and then to prepare for a potential human mission to Mars. They taught us so much and determined that the surface of Mars once held water, the basis for life. Opportunity roamed the red planet for more than 5,000 days, outliving its predicted lifespan 57 times. Next, Kobie led the mobility and remote sensing teams for the Mars Science Laboratory Rover, “Curiosity,” responsible for collecting rock, soil, and air samples, taking photographs, and operating a laser. Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 and—as of January 2023—remains operational, sending back images and data. In 2013, Boykins received a NASA Exceptional Service Medal, one of the highest honors given to NASA employees and contractors. Shortly after, he began his most ambitious project to date, serving as Chief Engineer on NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, slated for Fall 2024. This mission will send a radiation-tolerant spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around Europa—one of Jupiter’s four moons—to perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon, seeking to solve whether the surface ice holds liquid water beneath it. Where there’s water, there’s the capacity for life. A master storyteller, Kobie takes us inside the science and wonder of space exploration and shares with audiences the many reasons why we go.