Next Intent, a San Luis Obispo-based company that manufactures aerospace and spacecraft components, has been instrumental in the first mining operations on Mars.
The Mars rover Curiosity used Next Intent’s drill system to bore into the red planet earlier this month.
Curiosity, the brainchild of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, has ingested the rock powder and is currently studying the samples in two compact laboratories within the rover to determine whether water and/or microbial life once existed on the planet. Curiosity team members will use the labs to analyze the rock powder in the coming days and weeks and relay its findings to NASA/JPL.
According to Next Intent President Rodney Babcock, his company of 34 employees has been a JPL partner since 1998, fabricating various components such as wheels and other featherweight machinery that’s allowed rovers to explore the rills, rifts and valleys of Mars.
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How lightweight must those components be? “One 150-pound piece of aluminum ended up weighing about one-pound when we were done” crafting the apparatus, Babcock said.
The recent drilling is part of a two-year discovery process for Curiosity, according to Jennifer Trosper, mission manager.
“It’s the frontier, the exploration is testing our ability to discover,” said Babcock. “If we find water or not, it helps us to understand more about that planet that, in turn, helps us understand our planet.”
More information about Curiosity is online at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.