Issa Nesnas is a principal technologist in the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with over twenty-five years of experience in robotics and autonomous systems. He serves as the JPL lead on NASA's Capability Leadership Team for Autonomous Systems and has been on the Scientific Advisory Board of Caltech Center for Autonomous Systems and Technology (CAST) since its inception. He co-chaired several strategic planning and road-mapping efforts for NASA and JPL since 2014.
At JPL, Issa led the Robotics Mobility Group for five years, which developed the autonomous surface navigation system for the Perseverance rover and pioneered novel mobility systems and technologies. Prior to that, Issa led the Robotics Software Systems Group for eight years, which developed onboard and ground software for the Curiosity rover and worked across institutions to develop architectures for autonomous robotic systems.
Issa contributed to research in multiple areas. His earlier research focused on vision-guided dexterous manipulation and sample handling for both industrial and space applications, followed by research in perception-based surface navigation, architectures for autonomous systems, extreme-terrain mobility, and microgravity mobility. More recently, he has been conducting research in perception-based autonomous spacecraft navigation to approach, land, and explore small bodies. He served in multiple roles on three JPL rover missions: the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory, and the Mars 2020 missions, contributing to both entry, descent, and landing as well as the surface mission. He also contributed to lunar mission formulation.
Prior to joining JPL in 1997, Issa worked at a robotics company in Silicon Valley and participated in the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences Consortium working with industry leaders and innovating technologies for high-speed vision-based robotic applications. From his work in industry and at JPL, he holds several patents and has published in diverse fields.
Issa received a B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering from Manhattan College, NY, in 1991 and earned the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in robotics from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Notre Dame, IN, in 1993 and 1995 respectively. His contributions were recognized through several JPL and NASA Honor Awards. He is the recipient of the Magellan Award, JPL's highest award for an individual scientific or technical accomplishment.