Take a behind the scenes tour of the Clean Room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and see the construction of NASA's next mission to Mars.
(Screen text: The Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
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(Screen text: UNDER CONSTRUCTION Mars Science Laboratory)
Hello, my name is Curtis Wilkerson and I'm a Quality Assurance engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Rover.
And this is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
(Screen text: Spacecraft Assembly Facility)
This is literally where it all comes together.
Come on, let's go inside.
When we're building a spacecraft, all of its parts are brought here, to the cleanroom, for final assembly.
So, why do we use a cleanroom?
Because dust particles and other microscopic contaminates can harm our sensitive equipment and optics.
So, we have to remove those particles from the air.
Also, tiny airborne life-forms called microbes co-exist with us.
We have to remove those as well... because, we don't want to visit another planet and think we discovered life... just to find out we brought it with us from Earth. This cleanroom is configured as a Class 10,000 cleanroom.
That means that within one cubic foot of air... there can be no more than 10,000 particles the size of half of a micron.
Half of a micron is 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
Now, if 10,000 sounds like a lot, by comparison the room that we're standing in... has nearly 500,000 to a million particles within one cubic foot that are larger than half a So, where do all these particles come from?
Well, most of them come from us, the people.
Things like skin flakes, our hair, cosmetics, even the lint on our clothes.
When we are standing still, motionless, we shed more than a 100,000 particles per minute.
We're also worried about triboelectric charging.
Now, that's just a fancy way of saying static electricity.
You know how it feels when you're walking along a carpet... and you touch a doorknob and you get that little shock?
Well, that is more than 2,000 volts of electricity.
That kind of shock can do a lot of damage to our electronics and sensitive equipment.
So, to prevent static electricity, and contamination... we wear a special cleanroom garment you may have noticed.
We call it a "bunny suit."
Come on, let's suit up.
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Inside the cleanroom, the air is kept clean by a special ventilation system.
On this side of the room air is blown in...
while existing air is sucked out on the north side of the room.
It's then recirculated through HEPA filters and carbon filters... before being blown back into the cleanroom.
We also move our heavy equipment with large cranes.
The crane above us has a capacity of 15 tons.
Inside the cleanroom, we are building the Mars Science Laboratory... the next rover going to Mars. We have four large components in here today.
Behind me is the Backshell.
During our ten month cruise, this will be the home of our rover.
It's covered with a white thermal protection system right now... to protect it during entry into the planet.
(Screen text: Descent Stage)
Here we have the Descent Stage. Some call it the Sky Crane.
After we detach from the parachute, this has the responsibility of lowing the rover... with the help of eight retro-rockets, seen in red... to a soft landing on the surface of Mars.
At nearly six feet in diameter, our Cruise Stage gets us from Earth to Mars.
(Screen Text: Cruise Stage)
With solar panels on the top, we have power... antennas pointing toward Earth we have communication... and with the little rockets in the corner, in red, we can make small trajectory maneuvers during our cruise.
And, here's the reason we're going to Mars.
(Screen Text: Mars Science Laboratory Rover)
The Mars Science Laboratory Rover.
The largest rover this planet has ever sent to Mars.
(Screen Text: The Rover (as of October 2008))
It's mid-October, and right now we are doing a lot of electrical testing.
But, the closer we get to our launch date, we'll start adding our wheels, and our mast with the cameras...and then the robotic arm.
It'll really start to take form.
Once we're finished with all our assembly and tests, we'll pack it up, and ship it to Cape Canaveral Florida at Kennedy Space Center.
We'll go through even more tests--before we stack it on a rocket and launch it to Mars.
I gotta get back to work, but I hope you enjoyed your tour.
For NASA and JPL, I'm Curtis Wilkerson.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology