THE Scottish-made components due to land on Mars in February are “the heart” of NASA’s Perseverance Rover, on a voyage to collect samples in a mission that evokes images of a potential in space travel that now seems less like science fiction.

However, the over three miles of wire and cable running through the Rover like veins joins previous parts already on Mars belonging to W L Gore, who’s Dundee Space hub is at the centre of its global pace operations and connected to two previous successful fact-finding NASA missions to Mars.

Gore kit was also on the moon before humankind, as part of an exploratory mission, recalls Jeff Fyfe, head of the space division.

READ MORE: Scottish technology in mission to Mars on NASA Rover

As well as working with NASA and the European Space Aency, the company has Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Airbus among those on its orders books, and is currently operating across traditional space and "NewSpace", where rapid connectivity is the aim and there may be different requirements from the earlier days – Gore was founded in 1958.

“We started working with NASA in the early sixties. Space was really one of our first marketplaces that we ventured into with our wire and cable products," said Mr Fyfe. "We worked with them on some missions towards the big one, which was Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July of 1969, and it just so happened that in 1969, that's when we also discovered that PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) could be expanded, and that's what we call Gore-Tex today.

“We actually went to the moon before Neil Armstrong. It was really to conduct experiments ahead of the Apollo Lunar Module landing, so that they could determine whether the weight of the module could be landed on the moon, and, of course, it could.”

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He said: “So it's almost 60 years we've been producing wire and cable solutions to go to space, and we're really very proud of that.

The current kit cruising towards Mars at about 60,000 mph is “basically the heart of the Perseverance Rover”.

“There's about three and a half miles of cable on the Perseverance Rover, which is quite impressive when you think of about something that's about the size of a car.

The rover will recover samples and leave the in sealed vessels for future missions to collect and analyse.

“It is all to determine whether there are, or has been, any signs of life,” said Mr Fyfe.

“This is actually not the first time we're on our way to Mars. We're already there. The first trip was in November 2011, it was called Curiosity. The second trip was in May 2018, and that was called the InSight mission."

HeraldScotland: NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance MissionNASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Mission

On one future direction of the business, he said: “You can define space in two ways. There's what we call traditional space, which is what's been around since the last few decades, and then there's this thing that's emerging now, it's called NewSpace.

“It's a radical global transformation that NewSpace is having in terms of impact. It's people like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, that are funding these activities. It's mainly to connect the world. Half of the world still has no way to connect, and it's a basic human right to have that connectivity."

“There are thousands (of satellites) planned to be launched over the next few years, and it's about connecting the world."

He reflects: "I often get asked what did you do before you joined Gore? I always tell people that I played football with my friends and went to school, because I did, I joined Gore straight from school. At 16, I joined the company, I was the youngest associate, or employee. I'm now 39 years with Gore, and I'm now the longest serving.

“It's not many times you can see companies offering that kind of longevity, if you will, so it's a fantastic organisation to work for.”

He added: “Gore is really super proud to be part of those missions to the moon, and to Mars and beyond, and the work we do today, with NASA and with the European Space Agency, is going to have a huge impact on many of our generations to come. So I say, buckle up, it's going to be a fun ride.”

Q&A

 

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why? 

Most of my business trips take me to USA or Germany, I enjoy seeing the different cultures and also visiting our different manufacturing facilities. For leisure I would say Palma on Majorca was my biggest surprise when I made my first trip, I was not expecting such a vibrant city with very friendly locals. I enjoyed it so much I’ve now been there three times on holiday and by coincidence also went once for a business meeting.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job?

I wanted to be an architect

Why did it appeal?

Drawing and painting was one of my passions. When I was at school I saw an advert for a “draughting assistant” at Gore. They were looking for someone to produce the cable & assembly drawings. When I applied for the job I was 16, I was overjoyed when I secured the role and 39 years later I’m still with the company. I learned quickly not to make mistakes, CAD had not been invented and my drawings were on paper with ballpoint pen, it was not possible to “backspace” or “cut & paste”.

What was your biggest break in business?

Some years back I worked on aircraft programs and was part of an International Standards Committee. For years NATO had been living with a known problem but Gore developed a solution to solve the problem. When we shared the concept with the standards committee chairman rejected it because it was developed independently with private investment. Thankfully most of the committee members realised we had the only solution fit-for-use and spoke with me at the break-outs. That was 20 years ago, today most NATO aircraft are flying with the Gore solution and even today it remains the only one that works.

What was your worst moment in business? 

Making tough choices that impact associates and their way of working, unfortunately some decisions come with impact.

Who do you most admire and why?  

I was fortunate enough to have met our founder, Bill Gore, a couple of times and he was very inspiring. 35 years ago he was making a speech in one of our plants. He wasn’t a very tall man so we could hear him but not see him. We turned a milk crate upside down so he could stand on it and I’ll never forget what he said “the man that never made a mistake, never made anything”. He encouraged us to take risks and I still use that quote today after all those years.

What book are you reading, what was the last film you saw and what music are you listening to?

  • BOOK - I only pick up a book when I’m on holiday or on a plane and as neither are happening at the moment I’m not doing much reading, that said I do like autobiographies and would recommend Peter Kay but be careful not to laugh out loud.
  • FILM - I’m a bit of a petrolhead so I enjoy programs like Top Gear but I recently watched an old film I’d seen before - Bullit with Steve McQueen dating back to 1968, the car chase is fantastic.
  • MUSIC – I joined Gore in 1981 so no secret that that anything from the 80’s works for me, my playlist drives people crazy when they come visit me.