PRINCETON — If you watched NASA’s Mars 2020 launch Thursday morning, know that a Princeton High School alumnus helped assemble the rover, which is expected to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.
Ben Marti, a graduate from the Class of 2003, has been working with one of NASA’s Mars 2020 teams for the last four-and-a-half years.
In a recent interview with the Bureau County Republican before the rover was launched, Marti, a mechanical integration engineer, discussed his involvement in this mission, what the rover is meant to do and how he ended up working for NASA.
About Mars 2020
Cool fact: Marti was the last engineer to touch Perseverance before she blasted into space on Thursday. The rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
According to Marti, Perseverance is the largest rover ever sent to another planet, weighing in at about 2,260 pounds. It will land in the Jezero Crater on Mars and will spend roughly 687 Earth days completing its mission of collecting and caching samples of Mars, which will then be picked up in a future mission. The rover is carrying seven major instruments and a new Mars helicopter.
“Mars 2020 is starting the work to get the first piece of Mars back to Earth,” Marti said.
Marti, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., arrived at Kennedy Space Center in February and had been working to assemble the operation leading up to its launch date on July 30.
Before it was shipped to Florida on four large airplanes and 22 semi tractor-trailers, Marti worked with a team of engineers and technicians in California to build and test the spacecraft.
“We take the nuts and bolts, electronics boxes, wire harness, chassis, panels and assemble the spacecraft,” he said. “The work is very rewarding, but the hours can be long and there can be a lot of obstacles to overcome. Mars 2020 has an excellent team that has shown an amazing ability to pull together and get the job done in the spite of many challenges.”
Marti also took the lead for one of Perseverance’s environmental test campaigns, which involved putting the rover into a test chamber simulating Mars’ atmosphere, sunlight and temperatures for 13 days to ensure it would perform on the surface of the red planet.
Mars 2020 is Marti’s first flight project and he said he’s ready and willing to help out with a future flight project, but he'll be spending a little R&R at home before he commits to that. He's been away from his home in California for the past six months working long hours at the space center.
“A little bit of a break is due before heading back into this level of critical operations,” he said.
How does a graduate from PHS get to NASA?
After high school, Marti headed to the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. Following college graduation, he moved to California and worked at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake. While there, he conducted testing in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to help develop new technologies for landing on planets.
At the completion of that testing campaign, he took an opportunity to transition permanently to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That’s where he’s been for the last five years, the last four-and-a-half working on Mars 2020.