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SLU-Madrid Alumnus and NASA Engineer Unpacks Space Exploration

by Isaiah Voss


On April 2, Fernando Abilleira presented "Perseverance and Mars Exploration" on campus to faculty, staff and students in the San Ignacio Hall Auditorium.

Abilleira serves as deputy system manager and NASA Mission design lead for the ESA/NASA ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Mission (RFM) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 

A man on stage speaks to audience in auditorium with a science presentation projected on the screen.

Abilleira speaking to SLU-Madrid community members in the SIH Auditorium. Photo by Fernando Béjar.


The SLU-Madrid alumnus has worked at NASA for over 20 years, where he started as a trajectory analyst and mission design engineer. When discussing the achievements and roadblocks during NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover efforts, Abilleira explained his role as an engineer.

"I believe when a group of humans get together, anything is possible," he said. 

He emphasized that the goal on Mars is to see if there is evidence of past life on the planet, not only if current organisms are present. He later added that although he's not an astronaut, he can appreciate NASA's discoveries.

"No one under the age of 20 has lived a day without an active NASA mission on Mars," he said.

The presentation reached a wide variety of SLU-Madrid community members.

 "Fernando's inclusive approach extended invitations to SLU students, faculty, Madrid-based alumni and guests from various research and academic institutions, creating a diverse audience eager to delve into the mysteries of space," said Taieb Gasmi, Ph.D., SLU-Madrid's associate dean and Department of Engineering director. "It left a lasting impression on attendees, inspiring a renewed enthusiasm for space exploration and fostering a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the cosmos."