SWLA company helps Curiosity land on Mars

WESTLAKE, LA (KPLC) - While NASA celebrated the landing of Curiosity on Mars Monday, a local company is doing the same, since one of their products helped the rover make the successful descent.

NASA prepared for Curiosity's launch into space for months. The preparation included materials for the rover and the sky crane that set it on the surface of Mars.

"It's obviously not a huge part, but it's nice to know we had a small part," said Jim Barnatt, Hydrazine Business Manager. "We're proud of the products we make."

Lonza, a company in Lake Charles, is the lone producer of hydrazine in the nation. The liquid becomes a gas and helps with maneuvering in space.

"For this product, the real exciting part of it, it was actually used on the sky crane that dropped the rover on the planet," said Barnatt.

The four white hydrazine plumes can be seen in Curiosity's descent onto the surface of Mars, which Barnatt says made everyone nervous.

"One try," said Barnatt. "If it didn't work the first try, they couldn't go back and do it."

Barnatt says the government continues to select their product because of its quality.

"One of the reasons they chose our particular product is because of its purity, very very high purity," said Barnatt. "It's not going to leave any residue on the surface."

Meaning it won't tarnish the soil samples curiosity will collect while being one planet over in the solar system.

But the hydrazine used in the landing on Mars by curiosity isn't the only contribution that Lonza has made to the United States space program.

"You know, pretty much every satellite that launches out of the United States has our material on it," said Barnatt.

That includes Direct TV and satellite radio. But that's not all. They're responsible for rocket fuel too.

"We were involved with the space shuttle," said Barnatt. "Of course, that program is over now, but we were a proud part of that program for as long as it lasted."

Barnatt says they currently have a contract with the Department of Defense and hope to continue working with the government for many years to come.

NASA expects curiosity rover to operate on mars for at least two years, allowing it to collect data, including more pictures and soil samples.

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