Components of latest Mars rover, helicopter it carries developed in Durham

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Years of work comes down to what’s called the “7 minutes of terror.” It’s the final descent onto the surface of Mars.

“If it goes too fast, it crashes onto the surface. If it goes too slow, the hover craft runs out of fuel. So it’s really key that timing is perfect for it to softly land on the surface of Mars,” said Jeff Mobley.

The descent brake mechanism on the Mars Perseverance Rover was developed in Durham by engineers with the Sierra Nevada Corporation.

On board the Rover is also Ingenuity — the first helicopter to fly in space. It is there to conduct aerial surveys of the planet. Mobley and his team also developed the mechanism that assists in its deployment.

“One of our gear motors is part of the deploy process to allow that helicopter to take flight and release it from the rover,” Mobley explained.

In total, SNC has eight components on this mission that are used with 17 different applications. SNC has previously provided components for 14 NASA Mars Missions.

“It really is a team effort. It really is a family environment where we all kind of just take pride in what we do. And the fact that parts that we got to hold in our hand are going to be sitting on the surface of Mars,” Mobley said.

North Carolina is not the first state you think of when it comes to outer space. But Mobley, a North Carolina State University graduate, sees that presence growing. He hopes their help in making history inspires the starry-eyed future.

“We certainly want to look toward the next generation, the next generation of engineers and scientists within North Carolina, and say, ‘Hey, you can work in the space industry in North Carolina, or you can work in the space industry anywhere in America,’ but to really drive the next generation to want to do neat things like this.”

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