But even though First Mode has been helping NASA ensure that its Perseverance rover will get to the surface of Mars safely on Thursday, Voorhees will experience it in the same way millions of others around the world will: from home, watching a live stream via YouTube.
Perseverance rover landing
Museum of Flight
马洛里·莱夫兰，JPL的老兵，现在是First Mode的高级系统工程师, will be there as part of the mission’s team for entry, descent and landing, or EDL.
“Most people won’t be on lab, working their shift, until 24 hours before landing,” she said last week during a mission preview hosted by Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
The capsule containing the rover will be on its own as it goes through a sequence known as the “seven minutes of terror.” Because of the finite speed of light, it takes more than 11 minutes for signals to travel from Mars to Earth. That means the rover will have finished its landing sequence before the team at JPL even knows it started.
On the way down, the capsule will have to endure temperatures of more than 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit as it slows itself down from a speed of more than 12,000 mph. It’ll have to pop off its heat shield and unfurl a parachute while it’s falling at supersonic speeds. Thanks to the work done by Lefland and scores of others, the spacecraft has been programmed to guide itself to an acceptable landing site within Mars’ Jezero Crater, which is thought to have been flooded with water eons ago.
Thrusters from Redmond play critical roles
The craziest part of Perseverance’s plunge comes when a descent stage fires up eight rocket thrusters and basically hovers above the landing site while the 1-ton rover is lowered to the surface at the end of a set of cables. When the rover touches down, the cables will be cut, and the “sky crane” will fly itself away to a crash landing.
下降阶段的MR-80B推进器是为美国宇航局建造的Aerojet Rocketdyne’smanufacturing facility in Redmond, Wash. “Those are probably the most impressive engines we do out of the Redmond site,” said Fred Wilson, director of marketing and business development for the Redmond operation.
Members of Aerojet’s 420-employee Redmond team also built the thrusters that will help guide the capsule through the initial stages of its descent. Still more Aerojet thrusters came into play during earlier phases of the Perseverance mission.
“I would guess maybe half of the people on our site have had some involvement in this mission, whether you’re someone working on the contracts or accounting side, or somebody who was machining a part, or buying a procured item, or the inspector looking over somebody’s shoulder. … A lot of people have touched this program one way or another,” Wilson said.
Aerojet delivered its thrusters to NASA long before COVID-19 hit, but social distancing is nevertheless affecting how employees will experience the landing. Only about a third of Aerojet’s Redmond workforce is on site.
第一模式expands its frontiers
第一模式is also spreading out its 80-employee workforce, and that’s not just because of social distancing. Voorhees told GeekWire that over the past year, the three-year-old company has established an office in the Australian city of Perth to capitalize on theglobal market for engineering services related to terrestrial mining.
一年多来，First Mode公司一直致力于一项研究，该公司将其起源追溯到一家名为“行星资源”的小行星采矿企业亚博体育官方网hydrogen-powered ore-hauling systemfor South Africa’s Anglo American mining concern.
Several First Mode employees, including Lefland, worked on the mission’sterrain-relative navigation system— and on the procedures for anticipating potential problems and evaluating mission performance.
Lefland将在控制台与她的形式er JPL colleagues for the landing, and the protective measures put in place due to COVID-19 have added plenty of peculiarities to the job. “It’s been a strange experience, to say the least,” Lefland acknowledged.
It’s not just that there’ll be fewer people at mission control: They’ll also be more isolated. “You need to make sure that no person is a single point of failure,” Lefland explained. “We’re now worried about an entire shift going away because someone gets sick on that team, and you’re worried that everyone will get sick. So we really had to segment people.”
“This happens about 45 minutes before entry, and I spend a lot of time sweating all of the weird things that can happen when you do that transition within the software,” she said. “Once we pass that transition, and nothing goes wrong, I will take a very deep breath and be able to move on.”
Just when Lefland is breathing a sigh of relief, the real job will begin for the scientists associated with the Perseverance rover mission.
这是第一次火星任务Tim Elam, a senior principal physicist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Elam specializes in X-ray spectrography, which is why he was brought onto the team for Perseverance’sPlanetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL.
PIXL is designed to use X-ray readings to characterize the structure and chemical composition of rock samples on a microscopic scale. Data from the instrument could point to potential evidence of fossilized Martian microbes, or at least point to samples worth bringing back to Earth for further study.
On the other hand, working from home has its advantages, especially for a mission that’slikely to last two years or more. 埃拉姆说：“我喜欢我能控制自己的环境。“我和家人在一起。我在我家。我这里有我的设置，这就是我想要的设置。”
Meanwhile,Melissa Rice, an associate professor at Western Washington University who’s part of the team in charge of the rover’sMastcam-Zcamera system, will be watching from her home base in Bellingham. During a mission preview presented by WWU, she said she’ll feel an extra thrill on behalf of her students when she sees her instrument come to life on Mars. Some of her students have gone on to become part of the Perseverance team.
Will the lessons learned during this socially distanced Mars mission end up being applied to future space odysseys? It’s too early to tell — but First Mode’s Voorhees is sure that the spirit of exploration will survive the pandemic, and thrive.
“For me, it’s a little bit like the Olympics,” he said. “The Olympics is a very cool thing that happens every four years, and this is a very cool thing that happens every 26 months. And it just doesn’t get old. Just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean it’s not exciting the next time. It doesn’t mean it’s not scary the next time. It doesn’t mean you’re not holding your breath the next time. It just never gets old.”
NASA电视台will begin live coverage of the Perseverance rover landing at 11:15 a.m. PT Thursday, with touchdown expected at around 12:55 p.m. PT. Today there’ll be a televised mission update at 10 a.m. PT, followed by a noon PT news conference focusing on the search for traces of ancient life on Mars. Consult NASA’s website for afull schedule of events and activitiesrelated to the Perseverance mission.
Seattle’s Museum of Flight will present its own任务直播at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, with commentary by First Mode’s Maggie Scholtz; Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Bill Cahill; and Geoff Nunn, the museum’s adjunct curator for space history.