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Elmwood High School grads play big role in Mars Perseverance project

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 6:21 PM EST
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BLOOMDALE, Ohio (WTVG) - On Monday, NASA released a new video of the moment when the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars last week. A small Wood County community had its eye on that landing for some very special reasons. That’s because, not one, but two Elmwood High School graduates played vital roles in the project, making their way from a small town to Mars.

The 2010 Elmwood High school yearbook names Travis Wagner most talkative. These days he’s better known as a NASA surface mission planner for the Perseverance Mars rover.

“Living out in the country on a farm I had a really good view of the sky,” said Wagner.

Wagner has worked on this project for about six years, but with the rover safely on Mars, his mission really kicks in. He makes sure all the systems are operational, the antennae work, and eventually gets the rover ready to move on Mars’ surface.

“He took all of my classes in middle school and I knew then he was advanced,” said Eric Poffenbaugh, an Elmwood High School teacher.

Poffenbaugh, an engineering and architecture teacher, remembers Wagner and his work. With his students taking a special interest in this project over the last few weeks, Poffenbaugh sees new energy.

“It all started just with the classes that they’re in right now and depending on how you apply yourself you could do whatever you want,” said Poffenbaugh.

“We think Elmwood is a great place to get an education and I think seeing Travis go where he’s gone kinda just confirms that,” said Elmwood High School principal Ty Traxler.

Wagner isn’t the only grad to celebrate on this mission. Jennifer Trosper is the deputy project manager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. She’s a veteran of Mars missions and Wagner followed them all.

“I literally followed all of Jennifer’s rovers, getting the astronomy magazines, watching their full cover spreads,” said Wagner.

Proving to every kid walking the Elmwood halls now and in the future that working hard can give you opportunities in and out of this world.

“If you have dreams and if you pursue them and you study hard in school and you work really hard to get to where you want to be that sometimes eventually you’ll get there. Reach for the sky. Reach for Mars,” said Wagner.

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