REDMOND, Wash. — NASA launched its newest rover Mars Perseverance to the red planet on Thursday for what could prove to be a history-making mission. Researchers will be using this trip to look for signs of ancient life.
A company in Redmond, Aerojet Rocketdyne, is playing a critical role by building many of the engines used in the rocket launch and spacecraft landing.
“We’ve been working this program for over seven years now,” said Fred Wilson, with Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond.
He says the company has supported every NASA research mission to Mars.
“Redmond is where we do all the in-space propulsion,” Wilson said. “This will be our ninth successful mission,” he said.
Their role in Thursday’s launch included 12 5-pound engines critical to liftoff.
“A pretty important role. Twelve of those engines, they all had to work successfully for the mission today,” Wilson said. Specifically, they are MR-106 “reaction control system thrusters” that “provide pitch, yaw, and roll control for the Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage,” according to an announcement on the company’s website.
The Mars Perseverance rover’s role once it gets to the red planet is to search for signs of ancient life. It will dig into the planet’s surface to look for long-dead microscopic organisms that might’ve thrived there billions of years ago.
“It would be pretty cool if we could determine that,” Wilson said.
But before the research on the surface can happen, Aerojet Rocketdyne must play an even bigger, crucial role. Its engines must get the spacecraft to successfully land on Mars.
“The seven minutes of terror,” Wilson said.
Perseverance will rely on the company’s engines for entry, descent and landing. The engines in part keep the spacecraft and heat shield oriented properly, preventing it from burning up in the atmosphere.
“It all comes down to the seven-minute window millions of miles away where everything has to work perfectly. So it’s a little nerve-racking,” Wilson said.
What’s new this mission? Mars Perseverance is also going to bring a sample from the Martian surface back to Earth, which will allow scientists to conduct a much more detailed analysis for signs of life.
“We’re already starting to work with NASA on the sample return mission,” Wilson said. “Pretty exciting, isn’t it?” he said.
The company says after the successful launch Thursday, there’s a little downtime. Then come February -- when the rover is expected to land on Mars -- there will be another frenzy of work and excitement.
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