Man with a mission

This time of year, we make it our mission to share personalities and outlets embodying the drive to edify and entertain at the same time. Today, a YouTube stalwart you may well have seen before who’s made fun learning and educating his full-time mission.

Mark Rober is a former NASA JPL and Apple engineer who notably worked on the Mars Curiosity Rover and Apple special project product design before focusing on documenting projects designed to satisfy his own compelling and quirky curiosity. Nearly 23 million YouTube subscribers and over 3 billion views suggest he may be onto something.

Rober’s creations and experiments cover a wide gamut. From the world’s largest Jello pool (swimmability of pools full of surprises became something of a theme) and a liquid sand hot tub, to a rock-skipping robot and the world’s tallest elephant toothpaste volcano, no idea is too ridiculous or insurmountable for this man. Sedan vs. supertrampoline? Another theme is born. He knows and shows you can discover a boatload on the less-traveled long way home.

When life gives you lockdowns

As the adversity of the pandemic struck nearly three years ago, Rober, stuck inside his home gazing wistfully out the window, was struck with an inspiration: Why not enlist the sneaky bushy-tailed squirrels scurrying in his yard to star in their own obstacle course of athletic and cognitive skill? What resulted was not one but three successive video olympiads whose daring heroics may inspire generations of sciurid sunflower seed stealers to come. These cheeky, agile chariots of chestnut were the picture of perseverance in pursuit of the thrill of victory. Or maybe it was just the walnuts.

egg dropped from space

Omelet you know right now, it’s worth the watch

Besides his own YouTube space, Rober has appeared in TEDx Talks, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and as a guest with other YouTube icons. Most recently, he dropped a chronicle of his ambitious attempt to tackle the ultimate egg drop challenge, and Murphy’s Law, by dropping a regular hen’s egg from space and returning it safely to the Earth. The joy is in the journey: Mark’s own bounce-back perseverance in the face of difficulty and failure was as much a part of the story as the several minutes of terror waiting, scrambling across the desert to learn of the egg’s fate. Along the way, the interplanetary-grade parachute was a style-point bonus only a NASA JPL veteran could score, while the buck-and-a-half spinning beachball proved a brilliantly dumb backup.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

A favorite video Mark personally recommends is of the seven years of his life he devoted to the Curiosity Rover mission. Together with its sibling Perseverance, Curiosity continues to explore the surface of Mars to this day, embracing new challenges on the fly. JPL’s YouTube channel itself has produced numerous engrossing videos well worth watching that retell the history, fate, teamwork and fortitude involved in their lofty endeavors. Perhaps Rober is at his very best when he communicates his roving but purposeful human experience of science and engineering, with successes and setbacks alike, to growing audiences he keeps inspiring to think and learn no matter what their mission. Roll on, Rober.


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