OREM – As the Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars Thursday, a group of scientists, engineers and executives huddled in a conference room and watched NASA's live coverage anxiously.
The employees of MOXTEK Inc. had precious cargo on board — parts expected to play an important role in the search for signs of ancient life on the red planet.
"We're just a small part of it, but we all have the same goal — to help with scientific discovery," said product manager Shaun Ogden.
The rover's Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer mounted on a robotic arm, functions with three MOXTEK components — a miniature X-ray tube and two DuraBeryllium X-ray detector windows.
"You shine the X-ray on a surface and those materials that are in the surface give back colors of X-ray, and so we create the light source that hits the material and then the material responds by sending back their light signatures," explained senior staff engineer Todd Parker. "Those X-rays come back and go through our windows into a detector and the detector then counts every photon that comes into it."
Through that process, Parker said the instrument can determine exactly what elements are in the material and how they're distributed.
"That's how they'll be able to distinguish normal rock from possibly organic, fossil rock," Parker said. "We're basically shining a light on whether or not there was life on Mars."
Workers said the highly-durable parts represent untold hours of research, development and labor.
When the rover landed safely Thursday afternoon, the group applauded loudly.
"I tested it in my lap and now it's on Mars — which is pretty cool!" said Sterling Cornaby, senior application scientist.
Ogden said this was the tenth time MOXTEK products have been sent into space.
"What I think is unique about our X-ray products and why NASA and JPL require it is because they're super durable, super light and they take low power," Ogden explained. "You can run these on a battery anywhere in the world or, of course, on Mars."
The company's components, Ogden said, are currently slated to be part of three future space missions, including one aimed at studying the weather on the sun.
With Perseverance now on the Martian surface, Parker said he hopes the components perform as expected and hoped.
"The pressure is on us because now they're counting on our part to do its job," Parker said.