Robotics engineer, Castaic resident discusses Martian simulations for NASA’s JPL

Mike Garrett points to parts of a robot he brought during a presentation about his experiences being an engineer with JPL at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. He has worked for JPL for 37 years, 31 of which as an engineer, and is on the JPL Speakers Bureau. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal
For more than three decades, Castaic resident Mike Garrett has been one of the driving forces behind some of the most ambitious projects by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, including the vehicles the space agency has put on Mars. He’s also a member of the JPL Speakers Bureau, which means he speaks at schools where he’ll share what he does with students aiming to inspire them. However, this week, he spoke to a slightly different audience. His mother-in-law is also a frequent visitor to the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, and he shared some of his experiences in front of her and her friends at the center.
Mike Garrett delivers a presentation about his experiences as an engineer at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. “The goal today was just to do a living room slide show just to entertain people,” he said.
Through his years of study and development in the field of robotics, Garrett has tested the creations he’s worked on and engineered in some of the world’s most inhospitable climates, including a desert that reached 126 degrees; the North Pole and its well-below freezing temperatures; barren volcanoes; the depths of the ocean; and famous peaks. Tuesday’s talk included a presentation akin to less of a formal academic presentation, and more of a “slide show,” Garrett said. “The goal today was just to do a ‘living room slide show’ just to entertain people,” Garrett said.  “I thought it went pretty well because I think people were genuinely engaged.” Garrett has developed robotic technology for planetary exploration, military projects, commercial applications and space exploration, according to JPL. Some rovers include the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity, and Mars 2020. The testing and development for the projects take years, Garrett said, also noting that the program he runs currently has three robots on Mars. For Garrett, he feels lucky that he’s able to work at a labor of love, which is apparent in any length of conversation with him about the subject, and no doubt helps to engage audiences of all ages. “I like the variety, I like going into work every day and not sure what I’ll be doing,” Garrett said. “All I know is that I’ll have some problems to solve and they’re probably going to be interesting. I just love having problems to solve and creating things.”
William Stehle, left, along with other attendees watch a presentation by Mike Garrett at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Garrett has been an engineer with JPL for 31 years and is on the NASA Speakers Bureau. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal