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Kathryn McNair-Borin and colleagues
Prototype, R&D Machining Group
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sometimes in the excitement of fantastic images returning from a space mission we get lost in the new science, and forget that every spacecraft, every telescope, every microscopic fastener that keeps advanced instruments in precise place was made by someone, somewhere. For some of the most unique of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission's components, that's the JPL Machine shop. We visited in late December 2001, in the middle of the night, in the second long shift that was being worked in the race to ready the rover's cantilevered struts and wheels. (See comments by Pete Theisinger about time and schedule as the constant enemy.) The sounds and smells were those of any workshop: screeching steel and titanium being bored into by powerful machines; burning metal, with the odor of overheated brake-pads, softened by the softer scent of soapy-looking liquids. Darrell Houser, group leader-barrel-chested, tall, full-bearded-was proud of everyone who worked here. He said he'd made a special effort to recruit all kinds of people, from all backgrounds, so long as they had the engineering and technical "right stuff." So here were Anglos, Native Americans, African-Americans, some of Asian descent, men and women. In the "TMwM" videos, you'll hear some of what made them work hard, on long, late shifts, and we hope you'll realize that whether you like to tinker with your hands, or crunch numbers on a computer far from whirring bits and massive jigs, there may be a place for you in designing or building spacecraft. As Darrell Houser signs his e-mails "The Mind is like a parachute...It works best when OPEN!"

JPL's Profile of the "Machinists to the Stars"

Back to BIOgraphies Menu Prototype, R&D Machining Group's Biography    1