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Tech-Op-ed March, 2021 SOUNDING OFF

By Michael Skinner Editor

Perseverance is a Virtue, and Also a Mars Rover


bout 130 million miles away, separated by only 11 minutes of comms delay, our latest artificial Martian is fearlessly snap- ping pictures of reddish-grayish rocks and blasting them home-

ward in the form of X-band radio waves. NASA’s rover Perseverance, affectionately nicknamed “Percy,”

touched down on the surface of Mars on the afternoon of February 18th — according to the time in Cape Canaveral, Florida, from where it was launched. After examining more than 60 candidate locations on Mars, NASA

settled on Jezero Crater as the landing site for Perseverance. The crater is nearly 30 miles wide and located north of Mars’ equator. Jezero Crater is positioned within a 750-mile wide plain called

Isidis Planitia, which is, according to scientists, the site of an ancient meteorite impact. The site is an exciting place for the lander to begin exploring, since the floor of the crater contains clay — spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s compact reconnaissance imaging spectrometer (CRISM) tool. CRISM is designed to identify mineral residue with a combina-

tion of visible, infrared and near-infrared detectors. Since clay only forms where there is water, NASA is hopeful that Percy will uncover evidence of past life. Similar clays exist in the delta of the Mississip- pi river. There, microbes have been discovered embedded in rocks, offer-

ing a small glimmer of hope that the intrepid rover will find evidence of similar organisms. It took about seven months for Percy to hurtle through the enor-

mous emptiness of space between Earth and Mars, at a velocity of roughly 24,600 miles per hour. The timing of the mission was critical, since Earth and Mars orbit the sun at different speeds and distances. Only once every two years are the planets in the best position for the most efficient journey. The rover itself is a fairly large vehicle, 10 feet in length and 9

feet wide, though it weighs less than a small car. It is equipped with 23 cameras, 9 for engineering, 7 for scientific use, and another 7 for entry, descent and landing. These allow the team on Earth to guide the robot, as well as to take high-quality photos and videos of the Martian environment. In addition to its suite of optical tools, Percy has microphones to

capture sounds on the Red Planet, as well as to record the rover’s sounds to make sure it functions properly. A 7-foot arm with five de- grees of freedom and a built-in drill is used to extract samples and take microscopic images. If everything goes as planned, Percy will take at least 20 samples, analyze them, send the information to NASA, and then store them in case the lander is retrieved somehow in the future. The rover’s main mission is to characterize the surface of Mars

and uncover any signs of previous life on the planet. By studying Martian soil and monitoring weather conditions, the rover can inform manned expeditions in the future. Also, attached to Percy’s underbel- ly is a small helicopter, named Ingenuity, which is designed to per- form the first tests of powered flight on Mars. The successful journey of Perseverance from Florida to the sur-

face of Mars demonstrates the power of rigorous engineering, the val- ue of the scientific method and the virtue of our insatiable desire to better understand the universe. While the robot only represents hu- man footprints on Mars, Perseverance certainly symbolizes another “giant leap for mankind.” r


By Jacob Fattal Publisher

Rebuilding and Repairing Post-Pandemic

BioNTech and AstraZeneca. The total number of people vaccinated is growing quickly, both in the U.S. and abroad — an encouraging sign to all the members of our workforce who are waiting in earnest to re- turn to their jobs. Our industry is expected to see healthy growth over the next five


years and beyond. Conservative estimates forecast growth of 4.5 per- cent year-over-year to reach market value of nearly $10 billion USD by 2030. According to some experts, though, we may see up to 11 per- cent CAGR, especially toward the latter half of the decade. Driving trends include a steadily expanding base of automated

inline production machines, robotic handling systems, and greater functionality and connectivity through industry-standard protocols as well as various proprietary software. Today, it is rare to see a capital equipment OEM without a de-

cent level of software programming expertise, which is evolving from ground-level operating software into full-blown machine-to-machine (M2M) network platforms. These types of factory-level software sys- tems are breathing new life into legacy lines, as the software can add enormous value by monitoring and tracing boards and components, with relatively little physical change to production itself. Taking a step back and surveying the landscape of electronics in

use, it’s easy to be optimistic about the future. High-reliability markets, like aerospace, defense, and medical electronics, will continue to grow, demanding the highest possible quality and rigorous traceability. High-volume electronics manufacturing will continue to be dom-

inated by the upper-tier EMS firms, though there are new kinks to work out in the United States’ trading relationship with China. This is a bit complicated, since China, long the haven for low-cost, high- volume manufacturing, is seeing some of the world’s largest compa- nies depart to regions where trade relations with the West are less finnicky, public perception is more favorable, and labor is still rela- tively inexpensive. This past year has been challenging for many, and we’ve done

our best to keep friends and family close — but not too close. The sub- strate upon which our industry is built, the PCB, is still the workhorse of the entire world. We should focus on shoring up the foundation. r

he business world is coming back to life after being mostly dor- mant the past year. Vaccines for the coronavirus are now demonstrably effective, including those from Moderna, Pfizer-

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