Image credit: NASA; Pictured: Johnny Melendez (Lead Technician) and Jaime Waydo (Mobility System Cognizant Engineer) during Curiosity’s first driving test campaign.

The Mars 2020 launch window opens on Wednesday, July 30, 2020. First Mode team members have contributed to Mars expeditions dating back to Pathfinder in the 1990’s and up to the impending launch of Perseverance. As we lead up to the launch, we’ll share perspectives as our team reflects on the work that goes into building rovers that can traverse the surface of Mars. Check out other posts by Mallory Lefland and Spencer Anunsen for more insights!

by Peter Illsley, Principal Mechanical Engineer

Every day, the clock ticks down, and the Mars 2020 Rover dubbed “Perseverance” nears its launch window.  This 20-day window, occurring only once every 26 months, represents a fleeting slice of time when Earth and Mars are well-positioned for this Rover to escape Earth’s gravity and journey onward to the Martian surface.  To travel these vast distances, our robotic and human explorers must be ready when this crack in time opens and they can slip through, propelled by explosive fire.

As I reflect on the work that went into preparing for a successful launch – particularly during this critical time for our country – my thoughts are immediately with the people, friends, and team members making it happen.  Every day, wondering where they are in their time-critical and high-stakes crush of work to get the Rover and Spacecraft elements assembled, verified for a final time, and moved to the launch pad atop the Atlas V rocket.

The people are this mission.

The rest of the world marvels from a distance. Watching the vehicles being assembled in the cleanroom, seeing the intricate designs of the Rover and its complex Descent, Entry, and Cruise Stages.  They see the objects, the results of the immense efforts of thousands of gifted and dedicated people.  When we were in the middle of these same efforts with Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, we came to understand that these missions are only made possible by the dedication, respect, and character of the people who work fervently toward the common goal of getting their Rovers safely to Mars.  Their respective hardware, software, analyses, craftsmanship, and testing are the physical manifestation of each person within the greater effort of the mission.  Success is theirs, well-earned.  Every image of a new and strange landscape a masterpiece of their hands, and every discovery made collectively, together as a team.

Image credit: NASA; Pictured, left to right: Richard Rawls, James Pearson, Rick Theis, Kobie Boykins, and Vazrik Gharakanian, and Gary Bruner

In this spirit, it would be irresponsible not to address the climate in which these celestial and grand events unfold.  In less time than it takes for the Atlas V rocket to travel from a standstill on Earth to orbit and beyond, a Black man named George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on camera for all to see.  His life was worth more than any of the sophisticated technological hardware we ever invented on these missions.   The searing pain of this and so many other lives lost to racial injustices will be with us for the remainder of our own fragile lives.  This stark and unflinching example screams out that the lives of Black Americans are in danger.

We have seen the inspiring light and value of these lives produce some of the greatest achievements in all of space exploration even when they faced inherent and overt discrimination.  I am humbled, honored, and proud to have worked for and alongside incredible Black and Minority American leaders, all pioneers whose dedication to their craft far exceeds my own as they worked much harder in overcoming systemic bias to achieve their successes.

What we know in our hearts and through our experience is that the diversity, unity, and unflinching support of our team members is the only successful way to solve the nearly impossible problems of exploring space.  Together with our teammates, from all cultures worldwide, we have worked tirelessly and been fortunate enough to be a part of historical missions.  Together, we will work just as tirelessly to keep and hold the core values of equality, compassion, and fairness sacred in our company’s team culture and endeavors.  Always.

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