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Manufacturing for Mars

Many times, high-value manufacturers are extremely secretive about their manufacturing processes so their competitors don’t learn their secrets. Luckily, a manufacturer for NASA doesn’t have to be so protective. Here’s what we learned.

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Of all the manufacturing I have seen my time with Modern Machine Shop, here is the manufactured product that is destined to go the farthest. The photo above shows technicians assembling the Curiosity rover and other equipment related to NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, scheduled to launch late this year and reach Mars in August 2012. I snapped this photo during a recent visit to NASA’a Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California—and because I’ve grown so accustomed to high-value manufacturers being protective of their processes, I wondered for a moment whether it was OK to take the picture. Then I realized: Manufacturers are protective so competitors don’t learn their secrets—but who is the competitor to NASA? Quite the contrary, JPL talked freely about its manufacturing. I was there learning about (among other things) the lab’s use of ultrasonic machining