NASA’s Curiosity rover, built by the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is currently exploring the surface of Mars. Nearly every aspect about the robot’s scientific journey to and mission on the Red Planet has been met with considerable media coverage, and rightly so—it is sending us photos and data FROM MARS, after all, so it’s kind of a big deal. However, while the robot’s Martian discoveries get plenty of press, some very important people who played very important roles in Curiosity’s success have been woefully overlooked: the folks who helped built it here on Earth.
Behind The Scenes Heroes
We’re not referring to the NASA peeps who designed it and created the state-of-the-art technology that allows Curiosity to do what it does. Those cats have gotten plenty of coverage. No, we’re referring to the people way, way behind the scenes who built the separate parts and components that went into the rover itself.
At first blush, it might seem like a relatively easy task to create a batch of parts. And, certainly, if you’re building something like a car, it’s maybe not that big a deal. But, the Mars rover, a.k.a. the Mars Science Laboratory, is a different beast entirely: it not only had to make a 50 million mile trek through the darkness and cold of space, it had to survive a landing process the likes of which had never been attempted and continue to function on a barren planet no one from Earth has ever seen in person. That being the case, NASA didn’t just hire some clown from down the street to make the parts for their $2.5 billion, SUV-sized, scientific juggernaut—they brought in the very best manufacturers in the world.
There were so many vendors involved that it would be impossible to list them all here. (Well, maybe not impossible, but it’s certainly not something one would be likely to sit and read all the way through.) Instead, we’d simply like to call attention to these unsung heroes who helped make this incredible feat possible.
Some companies, like Prototype & Short-Run Services, Inc., supplied prototyping services that helped NASA engineers take their part designs from the initial stages through the final, ready-to-launch versions. Others, like ATK, built the heat shield, inter-stage adapters, and boat tail sections of the rocket that brought Curiosity to Mars. Still others, like Dunmore, provided specially insulated wiring that prevents cross-interference from the rover’s many electrical components.
Every last little piece of Curiosity was built by someone right here on Earth. Without the contributions of these skilled manufacturers, the Mars Science Laboratory wouldn’t be where it is, sending us not just breathtaking photos from an alien world (some of them photos of our world), but invaluable data that will someday help make mankind’s next step in space exploration possible.