ROSCOE -- It’s been years since America’s exploration of outer space has captured the national imagination. In many ways, the same can be said about the American manufacturing industry.
But for employees of a small Roscoe manufacturing com-pany, that fascination is back as they wait for the Mars rover Curiosity to touch down on the surface of the red planet in the early morning hours Monday.
The success of the mission rests in part on some small parts made at Forest City Gear in Roscoe. (continued below) Streaming video by Ustream
NASA will livestream the Mars landing here.
In a story we ran last May, company CEO Fred Young told reporter Dennis Hines, “We made gears for the latest Mars rover vehicle that went up in December, so we have gears that go out of this world.”
This is the third, and most expensive and complicated, rover to be built using Forest City gears.
The gears use a new titaniumlike alloy that will help save the project thousands of dollars per ounce on the final payload.
Not only did they make all the gears for the instrument actuators and wheel drives, but we were told the gears also are used in the reverse elevator which will lower the rover to the planet’s surface.
The mission hopes to answer questions about whether the planet has ever been able to support life.
Three conditions must be met to support life, according to NASA. The main ingredient is water, followed by energy and a short list of basic chemical ingredients.
NASA will build on the “follow the water” strategy used in previous Mars missions to determine the best settings to support life.
The $2.5 billion mission comes to a head about 12:30 a.m. Monday when the craft begins its descent to Mars.
In a Jet Propulsion Lab video that’s gone viral on YouTube, the descent is described as “7 Minutes of Terror.”
The computer programming alone has nearly half a million lines of code, although scientists say there’s zero margin for error.
Everyone from the employees at Forest City Gear to NASA’s top officials will anxiously await word of the landing.
“We shall be holding our breath for a successful entry into orbit and then a safe, soft touch down,” Young said this week.
The landing sequence begins as the craft arrives at the upper reaches of Mars’ thin atmosphere.
The landing craft, which includes a sky crane and the Curiosity rover, quickly slows down from 13,000 mph, to 1,000 mph. Shortly after, the parachute deploys to further slow down the rover.
Curiosity will decelerate to 70 mph where rockets will stabilize the craft and protect it from horizontal winds.
Then, when it reaches 2 mph, the sky crane will lower Curiosity to the surface.
It takes 14 minutes for the data signal to travel from Mars to the command center here on earth, although it could be days before confirmation.
In the meantime, those who have spent years working on the project will have to wait to see if their efforts are a billion dollar success or failure.
NASA plans to live stream the landing on its website.
In either case, this mission will highlight good old-fashioned American manufacturing, and the idea that there still is a place in our economy for companies that make things that can’t be saved on a hard drive.