NASA scientist controlling Mars Rover mission from London flat above hairdresser

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A scientist is helping to run ­NASA’s £2.7billion Mars Rover mission – from a one-­bedroom flat above a ­hairdresser’s in Lewisham.

Prof Sanjeev Gupta should be based at mission control in California.

But travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have forced the 55-year-old to work from home in south east London.

He said: “I should be at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, in a series of offices each one about three times bigger than this lounge, full of hundreds of scientists and engineers with their heads buried in laptops surrounded by large screens.

“Nasa’s headquarters is certainly a far cry from a one-­bedroom flat.”

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Prof Gupta is one of the leaders of the Perseverance mission.

The robot is on the Red Planet looking for signs of ancient life and collecting rock samples.

A geology expert at Imperial College London, Prof Gupta and his colleagues will begin directing Perseverance to spots to drill for samples, which will be transported back to Earth in 2027 by a separate UK-backed project.

He said: “The teenage son of a friend of mine asked me if I could order the rover to do a wheelie for him. I told him, ‘Not with my motoring skills’.”

Prof Gupta has rented the apartment near his family home so that his wife and children are not disturbed by his round-the-clock work.

The flat has been kitted out with five computers and two other screens for Zoom-style meetings.

Prof Gupta said: “Our working patterns are all over the place. It takes 11 minutes for the signals to get back from Mars, because it’s around 150million miles away.

“Yet due to the pandemic, I cannot be where I am supposed to be – in California, a mere 5,500 miles from here.

“Still, it’s a lovely little flat, even if it isn’t the typical image of one of the nerve centres of space exploration.”

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