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Meet Dr Trebi-Ollenu the Ghanaian scientist who built InSight, NASA’s latest spacecraft that landed on Mars

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On Monday, November 26, 2018, InSight, a spacecraft belonging to America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) landed on the Mars. According to the New York Times, the spacecraft is expected to study the Mars’ underworld, listening for marsquakes and seeking clues about the dusty world’s formation.

While this may ordinarily be an American conquest or achievement, Ghanaians have every right to join in the jubilation.  This is because at the heart of the historic landing on Mars on Monday is the remarkable work of Ghanaian engineer Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu who is the team lead for InSight at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Trebi-Ollennu builds robotic components for planetary exploration, a dream that began as a young child in Ghana. He is in charge of the InSight mission’s robotic arm and hand.

Born in Ghana, Dr Trebi-Ollennu has been working at NASA since 1999 and has risen to become the Chief Engineer of Robotics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After completing his secondary education, he moved to the United Kingdom where he had his Bachelors in Engineering (B.Eng.) in Avionics at Queen Mary College, University of London in 1991. He then had his Ph.D. in Control Systems Engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Royal Military College Science located at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom in 1996. Apart from his work at NASA, Dr Trebi-Ollennu is also the founder of the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation that won the prestigious Google RISE Award 2013. The academy is dedicated to motivating and inspiring young Ghanaians interest and participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through hands-on robotics workshops and competitions. Trebi-Ollennu’s granduncle was a barrister and judge, Nii Amaa Ollennu (1906 – 1986), elected the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana during the Second Republic as well as serving as the Chairman of the Presidential Commission and acting President of Ghana from 7 August 1970 to 31 August 1970.

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