NASA successfully landed Curiosity on Mars on Monday, and now it will begin its search for evidence that the Red Planet once had, or maybe still has, the necessary ingredients for life.
Boisean Christa Budinoff worked for two years on one of the rovers mini-laboratories: the Sample Analysis at Mars, often referred to by NASA scientists as SAM.
Its the biggest project Ive ever worked on and the fact that my stuff is sitting on Mars makes this project so exciting, said the 42-year-old mechanical design engineer, who is a NASA consultant.
Her role? Designing the gas-processing system in SAM. The Martian soil will be baked down to its chemical and isotopic states, and then it will be transported to different measuring instruments.
Budinoff designed the chambers that carry the gas to the instruments, such as the mass spectrometer, which measures the weights of the elements.
I had to find a way to get bigger molecules to go one way and the smaller molecules to go another, she said of one of dozens of design challenges. How is everything going to get from Point A to Point B.
She collaborated with a team of specialists, including a mechanical engineer at AMU Engineering in Miami and a machinist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The way the Internet works now, its made this job possible. You still have to communicate with them daily, said Budinoff, who traveled back East a couple times to make presentations with members of the SAM design team to a NASA review committee.
Budinoff worked at Goddard Space Flight Center for 10 years, starting when she was still a student at the University of Maryland.
She left NASA in 1998, after the first of her two children was born, but continued to work on projects for the agency. Her husband, Jason Budinoff, is an aerospace engineer for NASA.
Im prouder than heck of Christa, Jason Budinoff said. Im just thankful that we have the opportunity to do this to work on the future.
The Budinoffs, who have a 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, moved to Boise eight years ago. Christas parents, sister, brother and grandmother all had moved to the area from different parts of the country.
After visiting so many times, you decide its a great place to live, she said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413