This NASA engineer is behind moments of history on Mars


There are very few people who can say that they work on Mars.

But Farah Alibay has created a pioneering career.

"We are going to other planets, other moons, other galaxies – we are the modern explorers discovering new worlds," said Alibay The CEO Magazine of NASA headquarters. "You learn in history about these people who discovered an entire planet and obviously we know a great deal about planets now, but there are still many things to discover."

As one of the engineers in charge of the InSight mission, the first robotic probe dedicated to studying the interior of Mars since it was formed 4.5 billion years ago, Alibay never knows what every Martian day will bring.

"We are going to other planets, other moons, other galaxies – we are the modern explorers discovering new worlds," – Farah Alibay

Although the probe is not looking for life, it is exploring the core of Mars to help Nasa learn about Earth, making Alibay one of the first people in the world to see images of the rocky Red Planet.

"We are discovering the unknown, not knowing what we will find, sometimes not even knowing what we are looking for," says Alibay. "The question we're asking is why Mars evolved differently from Earth – which makes Earth so special."

Just a few hours before The CEO Magazine sat down with the 31-year-old engineer, InSight detected the first earthquake on Mars, nicknamed marsquake.

"InSight landed on Mars in November and now we have the first marsquake," says Alibay. "It was very small and it was unexpected. But it's great to say that we detected seismic movements on another planet.

"Sixty years ago, we did not even know what Mars looked like."

The Canadian's successful career may be full of triumphant and innovative breakthroughs, but it is not without its challenges.

As NASA has progressed in leaps and bounds in diversity since the first six women joined the organization in 1978, Alibay says she has faced issues of gender inequality in the past.

"When I was in high school, I had a career consultant who told me that I should not devote myself to engineering because it was a male-dominated world and I was struggling," she says. "My main advice is to not let anyone tell you no.

"I remember some college lectures where people dismissed me because they did not take me seriously or even realize I was an engineer because I'm a woman.

"However, I have a stronger personality and I have learned not to let it go. I've never had major setbacks because of this, but there have definitely been incidents where I was treated differently because of my gender or skin color – but it's happening less and less. "

As Alibay's role in the InSight mission ends, the aerospace engineer will target the upcoming pioneering red rock expedition alongside other talented scientific leaders on Mars 2020.

"Looking back, in the lives of my grandparents, they saw the first astronaut and the first satellite launch to go into space," she says. "Now we are releasing little things we produce from ready-to-use components and they travel all the way to Mars and send photos of Mars back to Earth – it's almost unbelievable."

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