Despite everyday hardships, the big-picture view of human history is dominated by a relatively short list of our predecessors’ landmark achievements. Among these are the invention of the wheel and fire, the transition of hunter-gatherers to farmers, the advent of writing, the age of sailing, the renaissance, the industrial revolution, the discovery of penicillin, the age of flight, the universal declaration of human rights, computers and, finally, spaceflight. Interestingly, all these events can be linked to our steadily advancing scientific knowledge and technological capacity which has allowed people to live better and more efficiently, thus enabling us to always solve bigger problems and ultimately getting us closer to a society where everyone can lead prosperous lives. The next landmark achievement on the horizon, and one which promises to solve many of Earth’s problems, is the colonization of Mars – which I am aim to make my life’s contribution to our world.

I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, where my family lived for ten years before moving to Copenhagen, then Boston (USA) and finally to Geneva. Both of my parents are educated as doctors and have encouraged me to receive the best possible education. Taking the opportunity, I received a top grade at the International School of Geneva and then the second best Bachelor grade at the EPFL, where I studied Mechanical Engineering. Now I am doing the Master’s program in Robotics, Systems and Control at ETH Zurich. As part of my Master’s and my goal of becoming the chief Mars rocket engineer, I will be doing an internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

JPL is the world renowned research and development hub for robotic spacecraft. Originating from Caltech, JPL has since been adopted by NASA, although it is still managed by Caltech. It is the only organization to have visited all eight planets of our solar system and it is the maker of all the successful Martian rovers to date. My internship at JPL will be about significantly enhancing the reliability of state of the art algorithms for autonomous navigation of robotic vehicles. This will have direct implications for the currently booming drone industry and may be integrated into future spacecraft autopilots. The experience will be invaluable for me as I will collaborate with the world’s leading space robotics engineers, thus laying the foundation for my future work on rockets and spacecraft that will get us to Mars. Indeed, robotics and automation are key to the current push by SpaceX and other companies to reduce the cost of access to space. Once this is perfected – and I plan to help on perfecting it – my goal will be to enable average middle-class people to afford a journey to a permanent Martian colony where they will help lay the foundation for our civilization’s space-faring future. I foresee the first manned landings on Mars occurring in the next 10-15 years. Another 10-20 years after this, hundreds of people will permanently live on Mars. Through the problems that will have to be solved to create an independent, self-sustaining off-world colony, astonishing technological and socio-political advances will be made that will help us live better on Earth and, indeed, thrive as a civilization long into the distant future.

Thanks to the generous support from the Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala, I will be able to continue realizing my dream of becoming the chief engineer of interplanetary rockets. After all, today it is JPL, tomorrow it is Mars.