Miami native playing big role in NASA’s historic Mission to Mars

MIAMI, Fla. – It seems there is a Miami connection to just about every major headline, but this one is truly out of this world.

We want to tell you about a Miami native who overcame incredible odds to become part of NASA’s historic mission to Mars. NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover performed its first drive on March 4 across the Martian landscape.

While it’s the name of the rover with a mission a decade in the making, perseverance may best describe one of NASA’s engineers. He’s Alvin Smith, a Miami native, and class of 1997 Killian High School graduate.

“I am the lead backward planetary protection engineer and I’m focused on how the mission facilitates coming back.”

Smith is part of a team of NASA engineers that’s going to make sure the rover safely returns from the red planet bringing with it possibly samples of oxygen converted from carbon dioxide.

“Then when we think about putting astronauts on the planet surface, now we have a reusable source of oxygen for the astronauts,” Smith said.

There’s an old photo his mother has of him playing with a spaceship with his sisters. A blend of science and medicine has always been part of Alvin’s life.

More pictures from his mother. “This is when he was born weighing only 2 pounds,” Vanessa Kindell said.

Alvin was born three months premature at Jackson Health.

“Because coming through the birth canal he had a leakage on the brain. He had a collapsed lung. He was only two pounds,” Kindell said.

“You never saw a human that small and you say ‘wow.’ Sometimes, I tear up thinking about where he came from and where he ended up,” Alvin Smith Sr. said.

By age 28, Alvin had graduated from Talladega College in Alabama and earned his Ph.D from Howard University.

Dr. Smith thought his future might be in medicine. That was until he did a Google search and it returned a job requisition that was on the other side of the country.

“When that happened, I knew that God had put that there for me. It was really all the opportunities and all the experiences married up for the perfect position for me at JPL.”

JPL is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory based in California and it’s the headquarters for the mission to Mars, where Alvin Smith is making Miami proud.

And, making his family proud, too.

Mary Wright, Alvin’s grandmother, said:

“To be 88 years old, to see him be who and what he is, I am so blessed and so thankful that I lived to see him be Dr. Alvin Smith.”


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