Mars Landing: A “Gold” for Small Businesses
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Weighing in at one ton and nearly the size of a car, NASA’s newest Mars rover, dubbed Curiosity, flawlessly stuck its Mars landing early Sunday morning, to the thrill and collective high-fives of about 400 NASA employees.
While the landing made some NASA scientists famous for an Internet minute (looking at you, systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi aka Mohawk Guy) and science cool again, the real long-term winners of this particular space race are the small businesses that helped make Curiosity a reality and created jobs along the way.
According to CNNMoney, Curiosity, which has a budget of $2.5 billion, has supported 7,000 jobs over the last eight years, including 400 NASA employees working on the project, and 300 scientists outsourced by the government agency. NASA spokesman Guy Webster defends the program:
“People wonder about throwing money at Mars, [but] no money was spent on Mars. There are no ATMs up there. All the money was spent here on Earth.”
Indeed. And small businesses saw a bit of that spending, according to this Inc. story, which profiles 5 small businesses that worked on Curiosity, including a robotics company, an optics manufacturer, and a company that designs and builds camera systems for spacecraft.
But how did a small bicycle company from Tennessee get involved in space exploration?
Litespeed, a Chattanooga-based company that makes bicycles, including bikes with titanium frames, made the titanium tubing for the rover's mobility systems, serving as braces between the wheels. Webster said the business relationship between NASA and Litespeed was sparked by a NASA engineer who also happens to be a biking enthusiast.
Brad DeVaney, director of production development for Litespeed, a 35-employee company owned by American Bicycle Group, said that titanium is an ideal metal to serve as the chassis and suspension system for the Mars rover because it's highly resistant to corrosion.
Proving that even in space, it all comes down to having satisfied customers in your businesses’ fan base.