2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Dustin Buccino stands in front of a scale model of the Mars rover Curiosity. Buccino is interning for Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was able to get a firsthand look at the Mars rover Curiosity landing early Monday.

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2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Dustin Buccino stands in front of a scale model of the Mars rover Curiosity. Buccino is interning for Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was able to get a firsthand look at the Mars rover Curiosity landing early Monday.

Steamboat Springs grad had front row seat for Mars rover landing

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Dustin Buccino, a 2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, stands in front of the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex 70-meter dish.

— Dustin Buccino joked Thursday that deciding his favorite "Star Trek" movie was the toughest decision he had to make that day.

Considering where he is and what he had been doing, the 2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate was understandably in the joking mood. Heck, everyone involved with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., had been riding a wave a good feelings after the Curiosity Rover landed early Monday on Mars after traveling 352 million miles in eight months.

The $2.5 billion project had been years in the making. The two-year mission will analyze Mars to determine whether the building blocks for life exist on the planet.

And early Monday, Buccino had a perfect seat for the landing.

Buccino is an intern at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is working in the Radio Science Systems group. Specifically, he is working on finding the shape of the astroid Vesta by collecting and analyzing raw data from the Dawn spacecraft.

But late Sunday and early Monday, Buccino was glued to Curiosity's journey.

“You could just feel the energy,” he said.

In the moments leading up to the landing, Buccino said there was an audible amount of stress, nerves and anticipation at the laboratory.

“The amount of people at Jet Propulsion Laboratory was probably about a quarter of the population of Steamboat,” he said. “Everyone went from a nervous wreck to happiest person on the planet in no time. I honestly can’t compare it to anything. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope to do it again.”

That’s the plan for Buccino. This fall, he’ll enter his graduate year in the University of Colorado’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences program.

His interest in aerospace began at a young age. He used to have model planes, then got into science fiction and, of course, "Star Trek."

He knew it was what he wanted to do, and Monday’s landing only fueled his ambitions.

His focus in school is astrodynamics and satellite navigation. He said he would love to work on and design future missions similar to Curiosity but said his main interest is more in line with the Voyager program that is leaving the solar system.

“I want to discover what’s happening outside our solar system,” he said.

He has two more weeks at Jet Propulsion Laboratory before his return to Boulder. He said the internship was everything he hoped it could be, finally transferring his classroom education into real-world scenarios.

“This has been the coolest experiences in my life,” said Buccino, who finally settled on "First Contact" as his favorite "Star Trek" movie. “I’m applying what I’ve learned in school to something practical. That’s very fulfilling. When you can start applying your knowledge to solve problems like this, it just makes me want to do it more.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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