People Behind the Product - Mars Rover
People Behind the Product
Can you give me an overview of Honeywell’s involvement with the Mars Rover?
Our involvement is with the Miniature Inertial Measurement Unit (MIMU) product line, which is the radiation-hardened navigation system typically used for deep space products and missions. The MIMU was used to navigate the Mars 2020 spacecraft carrying the Perseverance rover down to the surface of Mars during the “seven minutes of terror”. The spacecraft relied heavily on our instruments to make it safely to the surface of Mars. Honeywell has had products on all the Mars missions and the Landers throughout the history of its exploration.
What was exciting about the Perseverance Rover Mars 2020 mission was that our customer came to us with concerns based on analysis that put the MIMUs at risk due to current limitations of our software that we needed to solve during the landing phase to remove this risk and be successful. The Honeywell team worked closely with the customer and we were able to find a new capability of our product to be successful for this mission. It also gave some insight and additional knowledge about what our product can actually do. We’ve implemented this new change and feature and are now offering it to all of our customers. It's opening a lot of doors to using the MIMU for even more future missions.
Why is this an exciting project to work on for Honeywell? And for you personally?
For me personally, I have a family of two young boys. And, for me growing up, I've always been fascinated with space and exploration and all the cool things that we do. When I look at the news or when I read something on the Internet or media, I can say that I'm part of that. I've been on both the space and defense side, so I know that I'm also helping to keep our soldiers and country safe. We are on a lot of cool missions exploring Mars, Pluto, Jupiter and asteroids. We were in the fly-by of Pluto and currently part of the Osiris-Rex mission with the exploration of the asteroid Bennu that will be bringing samples back in 2024, a first in space exploration. And, the future missions that we're on - we're going to be exploring a metal asteroid on what I think is going to pave the way for future mining expeditions to get those precious metals out of some of those asteroids that are orbiting us in space. I can point back to these missions and others and say to my children and my family here at Honeywell – we were a part of that.
What do you like about your job and what motivates you to come to work every day?
I have a great team here. We are truly like a work family who really works well together. The people here, and the products, are what motivates me to work here. As I mentioned, we have such a broad spectrum of products here at Honeywell that I am proud to support – defense missions and space explorations – it’s all really cool stuff that we do. That’s what motivates us all, everyone on my team - to come in and be a part of something great.
How do you think the Mars Rover will have an impact on the world?
I believe in general, as people and all the interesting technical developments over the years, we've become a little numb to the excitement. But, the Mars 2020 has been releasing a lot of excellent footage of high-definition video. The public became really involved with the Mars 2020 exploration and the Mars Ingenuity drone test flight that's coming up will pave new ways for more exploration. Not only on Mars, but our customer is also looking at developing a drone for the Dragonfly Expedition that is planning to explore Titan, the moon orbiting Saturn.
But as I look back throughout history, space exploration has been the key motivator for all kinds of technical developments. When we had the first Apollo 8 photo taken of Earth from a distance, Earth Day and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were created. In 1980, computers and cell phones started coming out. This is all within a short time period, and all driven by motivation from the excitement that space exploration has brought into our lives. To think about it, that's just driving even more development and technology. Who knows what's next?
Were you nervous during the “seven minutes of terror”, when the MIMU was doing its job?
Yeah, during most of those landings we were nervous. We actually had a team in a viewing party outside of work to watch the landing as it was televised, as we do for most of the landings. It’s all captured on video for the first time and you can see our MIMUs on the Sky Crane as it delivers the rover and flys off and comes what we’ll just call ‘Mars junk’.
But, being involved and seeing all of that first-hand, it was extremely exciting and nerve-wracking. At the end you get that sigh of relief and mission success. I then got phone calls from my customer counterparts, congratulating us on our product doing what it's supposed to do.
How is that relationship with the customer? Do they have a high confidence in us of our history?
Yeah, absolutely. The MIMU has a huge history and heritage behind it and with all of our mission successes, we've been 100% successful. The product started out in 1997, we were on early Mars missions. At that time, we thought that we might have 100 units and we're already up close to 800 total MIMU units, dating back to 1997.
That heritage is what's bringing our customers back. They know that the MIMU is reliable and that it will perform as expected, and they keep using it in their designs.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
As with anything that we do here at Honeywell, it's never just one person that does the work. It was definitely a team effort, especially with the redesign our customer needed during the landing phase. Through it all, every function and department worked really well together to make sure that we deliver quality products to our customers, and the customers definitely recognize that over and over again. It keeps them coming back to us.