Black History Month: Celebrating Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu

by Duke Magazine

Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu is a robotics engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he has served as the chief engineer and technical group leader since 1999. Trebi-Ollennu was the lead engineer on the InSight Mission, the first deep interior mission to Mars, which launched on May 5th, 2018.

Born in Ghana, he moved to the United Kingdom to pursue his bachelor’s degree in avionic engineering at the Queen Mary University of London in 1991. His lingering childhood fascination with planes encouraged him to continue his education at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University in 1996, where he received a Ph.D. in Control Systems Engineering.

His fascination for the science behind replacing human pilots with robots inspired the 2018 InSight mission in which the robotic arm his team built would go where no human has ever gone before, exploring the frozen water of Mars and deducing how planets form. His past projects on Mars include the Phoenix Mars Exploration Rover in 2003, which resulted in the discovery of water on Mars.

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In 2007, he worked on the Mars Lander, earning the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal in 2008 for his contributions, the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory, and the InSight Mars Lander project in 2016.

Trebi-Ollennu is a fellow at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on planetary rovers and their operations, mechatronics, reconfigurable robots, and man-machine interactions at these institutes and NASA.

In 2011, Trebi-Ollennu founded a non-profit organization called the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation with the vision of inspiring young Ghanaians in STEM. The organization works to motivate the next generation by facilitating robotics and science clubs in public and private schools, organizing yearly workshops and competitions, and advocating for robotics programs to be a regular part of the school curricula.

With over ninety-five publications, Trebi-Ollennu is a highly accomplished engineer who has changed the field of STEM on an astronomical level, which has earned him several awards such as the IEEE Region 6 Outstanding Engineer Award in 2007, the 2010 Specialist Silver Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the 21st Century Trailblazer Award in Systems Engineering from the U.S.A. National Society of Black Engineers.

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