NASA rovers carried World Trade Center aluminum to Mars

nasa rovers carried world trade center aluminum to mars rover shield

The offices of Honeybee Robotics were located less than a mile from the World Trade Center in 2001. In September of that year, the company was building grinding tools for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the employees of Honeybee struggled to find a way to offer help or a tribute as they were weighed down by the necessarily-firm NASA deadlines required for equipment testing. But eventually Honeybee found the perfect opportunity.

The design of the grinders called for a plain aluminum shield to cover the tool’s control cables. Working with New York City mayor’s office, a metal-working shop in Texas and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Honeybee decided to fabricate the shields out of aluminum recovered from the World Trade Center towers. With images of American flags attached, both shields now serve as a permanent tribute on Mars. On the photo of Spirit above, the shield is the dull metal piece at top left.

The Spirit rover was launched all the way back in June 2003, with Opportunity launched that July. By January of 2004 they’d both landed safely on Mars. Their primary missions were both completed three months later. The grinders designed by Honeybee were used initially in rock sampling; they allowed both rovers to cut through the crust on Martian rocks to analyze their contents.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until the end of 2004 that anyone from Honeybee spoke publicly about where the shields’ aluminum had come from. That November, in a profile of Honeybee by the New York Times, Honeybee CEO Stephen Gorevan spoke of the shields.

“It was intended to be a quiet tribute,” he said. “Enough time has passed. We want the families to know.”

The rovers continued their work long after that. Opportunity is actually still active, while Spirit quit communications in spring of last year. During that span both rovers have used their penchant for geological study to vastly increase our knowledge about ancient Mars’ wet environments and their potential for supporting life.

After Opportunity goes silent, both rovers will remain in good condition for years to come thanks to Mars’ dry, cold environment. Even when they’re nonoperational, the rovers will continue carrying out their mission as the only interplanetary tribute to September 11.

Lead photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Emerging Tech

Meet the 4K selfie drone that folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.