Chattanooga bicycle company helped create Mars rover Curiosity

Authored By Chloé Morrison

The job wasn’t a huge money-making endeavor, but taking part in history and space exploration was priceless.

A crew of six from Chattanooga-based LiteSpeed Bicycles, whose parent company is American Bicycle Group, built the framework of NASA’s rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars early Monday morning and will spend coming months searching out signs of life.

“The privilege of being able to use the team’s skills and talents on something that goes into space-that’s really, really special for us,” Brad DeVaney, who is in charge of product development for LiteSpeed, said Monday.

According to FastCompany, engineers at Jet Propulsion Lab employed help from leaders in a variety of business sectors, from film and motion-capture animation to cycling and art.

The local LiteSpeed team worked with Jet Propulsion Lab leaders for about a year developing tubes and various other products, DeVaney said.

After “testing and more testing,” LiteSpeed joined in a “flight contract,” which is a deal to make the parts that will go into space.

The local crew worked mainly with the “mobility team” within NASA and Jet Propulsion, he also said.

The mobility team deals with the vehicle, its structure and its ability to navigate the terrain.

The lead engineer with the mobility team had been a cyclist and knew of LiteSpeed’s work and their titanium fabrication, DeVaney said.

The work was similar to what they do with bicycles, only it was on a larger scale.

It took crews nine years and $2.5 billion to develop Curiosity, which is about 2,000 pounds, 10 feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall, according to FastCompany.

According to NASA’s website, Curiosity will spend about two years after it lands studying whether an area of Mars has “ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.”

The rover’s arms are strong and precise, and they can maneuver a 73-pound turret at the end of the arm “accurately enough to deliver an aspirin tablet into a thimble,” also according to NASA.

Many people stayed up into the early morning hours Monday to watch the one-ton rover land. There was a period of seven minutes when Curiosity went from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars, slowing from 13,000 mph to zero. During this time, the rover was on its own and had no help from NASA experts.

During this time, countless things can go wrong, but Curiosity did its job flawlessly.

DeVaney said he didn’t worry that the product he helped design would fail during its mission.

The design team created a machine that they knew would withstand situations beyond what it would actually have to face, he said.

To see the rover land on Mars and know that LiteSpeed contributed to its success was significant.

“It was a simple contract-we made the parts and sold them to Jet Propulsion,” he said. “It wasn’t a highly profitable job, but the magnitude of what it represents is really special.”