Dr. Juan R. Cruz, Ph.D., is a Puer­to Rican sci­en­tist who played an instru­men­tal role in the design and devel­op­ment of the Mars Explo­ration Rover (MER)Parachute.

Early years

Cruz, who was born and raised in Puer­to Rico, holds a Ph.D. from Vir­ginia Tech, and an S.B. from MIT, both in aero­space engi­neer­ing. Dur­ing his years at MIT he was involved with the Monarch and Daedalus human pow­ered air­plane teams.

Career in NASA

Cruz is a senior aero­space engi­neer  in the Explo­ration Sys­tems Engi­neer­ing Branch at the NASA Lan­g­ley Research Cen­ter in Hamp­ton, Vir­ginia. His respon­si­bil­i­ties are focused on research and devel­op­ment of entry, descent, and land­ing (EDL) sys­tems for robot­ic and human explo­ration mis­sions. He was a mem­ber of the high­ly suc­cess­ful Mars Explo­ration Rover (MER) project that placed two rovers on the sur­face of Mars in 2004. His con­tri­bu­tions to the MER project were cen­tered on the design and qual­i­fi­ca­tion of the super­son­ic parachute.

Mars Exploration Rover Mission

Descent is slowed by parachuete

Descent is slowed by parachuete

The MER-A-rover,spirit, was launched on June 10, 2003 at 17:59 UTC, and MER‑B, oppor­tu­ni­ty, on July 7, 2003. Spir­it land­ed in Gusev crater on Jan­u­ary 4, 2004, and Oppor­tu­ni­ty land­ed in the Merid­i­ani Planum on the oppo­site side of Mars from Spir­it, on  Jan­u­ary 25, 2004.

Cruz was among the sci­en­tists from Lan­g­ley who helped devel­op the para­chute which helped slow the space­craft dur­ing entry, descent and landing.

Accord­ing to Cruz:

“There are chal­lenges to test­ing these para­chutes because we can not test it at exact­ly the right con­di­tions.  Earth’s atmos­phere is the one we have to work with and the Mar­t­ian atmos­phere is very dif­fer­ent, so you have to make adjust­ments in how you test the para­chute. Anoth­er issue is the wind tun­nel mod­els we used in our tests were ten per­cent scale mod­els, about five feet in diameter”.

Cruz is also a mem­ber of the Phoenix (Mars 2007), Mars Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­to­ry (Mars 2009), and Crew Explo­ration Vehi­cle EDL teams. He has under­tak­en research on advanced mis­sions to Mars, includ­ing robot­ic air­planes, as well as hav­ing been a tech­ni­cal review­er for the Gen­e­sis, Huy­gens, and Star­dust mis­sions. Pri­or to his involve­ment with explo­ration pro­grams he con­duct­ed research on high-alti­tude unmanned aircraft.