In September 2001, Honeybee Robotics employees in lower Manhattan were building a pair of tools for grinding weathered rinds off rocks on Mars, so that scientific instruments on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity could inspect the rocks’ interiors.
That month’s attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, less than a mile away, shook the lives of the employees and millions of others.
Work on the rock abrasion tools needed to meet a tight schedule to allow thorough testing before launch dates governed by the motions of the planets. The people building the tools could not spend much time helping at shelters or in other ways to cope with the life-changing tragedy of Sept. 11. However, they did find a special way to pay tribute to the thousands of victims who perished in the attack.
An aluminum cuff serving as a cable shield on each of the rock abrasion tools on Mars was made from aluminum recovered from the destroyed World Trade Center towers. The metal bears the image of an American flag and fills a renewed purpose as part of solar system exploration.
One day, both rovers will be silent. In the cold, dry environments where they have worked on Mars, the onboard memorials to victims of the Sept. 11 attack could remain in good condition for millions of years.
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