By Nazanine Nouri
Kamak Ebadi and Aram Hamidi are an Iranian-American couple working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). They were instrumental in NASA’s successful recent mission to Mars.
Dr. Ebadi is a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (CALTEC). He has developed localization, navigation and mapping solutions for the collaborative Mars helicopter and rover mission.
His wife, Aram Hamidi, is a machine learning and data scientist in the Mission Control Systems section at NASA’s JPL whose work is focused on spacecraft anomaly detection and analysis.
“Today, as I witnessed our first flight on Mars, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that for millions of years, billions of people stared at the night sky and dreamed of traveling to Mars,” Dr. Ebadi posted on Instagram on April 19. “I am truly humbled and extremely lucky to be alive in this time in human history, to witness the dream of my ancestors come true, as we rise above the Earth and land on Mars, only to rise again. Ad Astra!”
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One of Dr. Ebadi’s most recent missions at NASA’s JPL is flying a helicopter on Mars for the first time in history. With no GPS on Mars to help localize a vehicle, the helicopter needs to be able to fly and navigate on its own, capture images, map the terrain, and safely land – all autonomously.
Growing up in Iran, Kamak Ebadi was always fascinated with space exploration and dreamed of working at NASA. That dream became a reality 20 years later when, as a NASA Jet Propulsion spokesperson, he found himself commenting on the successful touchdown of the InSight spacecraft on the surface of Mars to a group of VIP guests.
“It was a long journey,” Ebadi told the Santa Clara University School of Engineering’s Journal in January 2019, “but I planned for it, stayed focused, worked hard, and kept getting closer and closer to my dream.”
Ebadi started working at the age of 17 and spent nine years (on night shifts) providing network engineering technical support for different Internet service providers and telecom companies in Iran.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in software engineering in Iran, he was accepted into a master’s program in computer engineering at Florida International University.
He was particularly interested in the work of Dr. Firouz Naderi, a 36-year NASA veteran who at the time was Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Ebadi contacted him to request a mentoring opportunity.
On Dr. Naderi’s recommendation, Dr. Ebadi moved to California to be closer to NASA’s JPL for his Ph.D. program at Santa Clara University (SCU). It’s the only university running mission operations for NASA. There, he earned a Ph.D. in Robotic Perception for Multi-Robot Autonomy in 2020.
On his very first day at SCU, he met the woman who would become his wife: the Iranian-born Aram Hamidi, a new master’s student in the electrical engineering robotics program. They started dating and were married by 2016.
Before moving to the US, Aram Hamidi had received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Iran, and served as a research assistant at Sharif University of Technology.
In the US, he got a Master of Science in electrical engineering degree from Santa Clara University (2014).
Ebadi went on to be recruited by Dr. Naderi at NASA’s JPL.
Asked to explain one of his biggest accomplishments in life during his job interview, he replied: “The fact that I’m sitting here talking to you at this moment is one of my biggest accomplishments. For 18 years I’ve been working towards this job interview. Many things had to come together just right, but I never let the dream go and worked for it.”
Eight years after he first met Dr. Naderi, he posted a photo of their encounter, and described it as “a turning point in my life. I did not exaggerate.”
“At that time, I was living in Florida. He told me to move to California, so I did, and so I met my wife, the day that I arrived in California. He told me if my goal was to work for NASA, for my Ph.D. I should pursue a degree in Robotics and AI, so I did, and so now I work my dream job.“
“I cannot fit all the great lessons that I have learned from him throughout all these years in a short Instagram post. Let’s just stay that, an amazing mentor can shape your personal and professional life in ways you cannot imagine.”
On April 16, his wife Aram Hamidi received NASA JPL’s Discovery Award for her contributions to advancing artificial intelligence and data science technology.
In a post on Instagram on April 23, Kamak Ebadi wrote:
“As a scientist and principal investigator Aram led and developed a novel AI algorithm for real-time fault detection, isolation, and recovery that can be used for monitoring the health of space systems and alerting mission operators of any anomalies that should be addressed before a system fails.
Aram’s work was recognized by JPL’s office of chief technologist, as one of JPL’s technology highlights of 2020. I am so proud of you Aram, as your friend, colleague and your husband. Together we reach for the stars!”
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