Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Manning to speak at commencement

This year’s commencement address will be delivered by Rob Manning, ’80. Manning, who grew up in Whidbey Island, Wash, majored in physics while at Whitman and is now a major player in NASA’s Mars missions and the chief engineer for the Curiosity Mars rover.

President George Bridges asked Manning to speak at commencement late in February of this year. He cites Manning’s enthusiasm and high energy as a major factor in his selection.

“As an alum, he was absolutely enthusiastic about giving a commencement talk,” said Bridges. “He is a highly energetic person who has made huge contributions to all of the Mars explorations and just seems like a person who would be a very energetic speaker.”

Manning describes himself as “kind of an oddball speaker,” and it shows. He has unbridled enthusiasm for his work, and it shows when he discusses Curiosity.

“Curiosity is somewhere between a close friend of mine and HAL-9000,” said Manning. “She was a really grumpy teenager.”

At the time of writing, Manning was unsure of his plans for the speech.

“I have a long list of ideas that I’ve written down in my notes.  My trouble is … making up my mind,” he said.

While the process of preparing a speech is stressful, Manning has a sense of humor about it.

“These are short talks. They’re only 15 or 18 minutes long … How much damage can you do in fifteen 15, really?” Manning cracked. “The best thing about is that if I don’t do well, they just won’t invite me back.”

Manning is excited to return to Walla Walla, especially since his wife and daughter, who have never been here, will be accompanying him.

“I hope that they’ll enjoy it; I think they will,” said Manning. “Whitman was a wonderful experience, especially the people. The students were really great.”

Manning’s schedule is keeping him extremely busy. After the speech, Manning will fly to Hawaii for a test of one of his new projects, the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, a device intended to decelerate spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere.

“It’s a really fun project.  It’s perfect for 12-year-old boys like me because it involves rockets and explosives and parachutes and fabric and things that go bang,” Manning joked.

For these same reasons, Bridges is optimistic about Manning’s speech.

“I just think Rob will be terrific,” said Bridges. “If you haven’t seen him on Nova, take a look; that will give you an idea of the kind of energy he has. This guy loves space.”

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