KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– A University of Tennessee graduate designed and built camera motors responsible for the stunning images from the Mars Pathfinder mission.
Doug Petercsak, 1988 UT-Knoxville mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate, also did the work on the airbags that allowed Pathfinder and the Mars rover Sojourner to land unharmed on the Red Planet.
“So far our units have worked flawlessly,” Petercsak said. “All those pictures that we have been seeing would not be possible if they (NASA) could not point the camera.”
In 1994, Petercsak and his partner Jim Sprunck co-founded American Technology Consortium, an engineering firm that produces motorized mechanical units for use in space.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab was having problems with gears for airbags in Pathfinder’s landing system when they learned of Petercsak’s company. With the project behind schedule, the UT graduate said the firm had to move quickly.
In just 12 weeks, ATC provided more than 20 flight gearboxes and motors for the Pathfinder airbags. The company did the job so well NASA was back three months later with a contract to produce motors to rotate the camera.
“They were having difficulty meeting requirements for the camera, particularly at low temperatures,” Petercsak said. “Again, they were running late and needed someone fast. Because of the good experience we had before, they brought us in.”
Petercsak now lives in Fillmore, Calif. His firm has already designed and built camera-pointing mechanisms for NASA’s Mars ’98 mission.
A New Jersey native, Petercsak was leaning towards attending Rutgers University until his parents retired to Franklin, Tenn., and he visited UT-Knoxville.
“The University of Tennessee had a superior engineering department,” Petercsak said. “The engineering co-op program at UT-Knoxville is incredible. It’s one of the university’s best assets.”
Contact: Doug Petercsak (805-278-1396)