Mars mission with a connection to Skye

This image is part of a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars – PHOTO: NASA

A former NASA engineer from Portree now has a presence on Mars following the successful touchdown last week of the rover Perseverance.

Alexander MacRae’s name was inscribed onto the robotic craft’s metal frame by the Lifeboat Foundation, a think-tank dedicated to tackling “existential risks” to humanity such as the misuse of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. He is a member of its futurist advisory board and had previously been contracted to NASA in the field of micro-electronics and communication, aspects of which were used in Perseverance.

Mr MacRae (86) was born on a croft at Budhmor and was gifted his “boarding pass” by Eric Klien, chief executive of the Lifeboat Foundation.

“One of their main interests is to establish a human colony – like Elon Musk is also involved in,” he told the Free Press. “Perseverance’s mission is to search for signs of ancient life, and it was a nice gesture for them to engrave my name on it. It was very tense in the last seven minutes, but a great relief that the precision and teamwork paid off.”

Perseverance is an upgraded version of the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012. One of the engineers who worked on it was Alexander Nicolson – Mr MacRae’s neighbour in Budhmor.

The former Portree High School pupil moved to Canada to work for Pratt & Whitney designing gas turbine engines. He moved to California, where he still lives, in 2005 to work in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Regarding his work on Curiosity, Mr Nicolson said: “The amount of testing was incredible, we often even had to retest the equipment that was used to test components and assemblies of the rover.

“The biggest challenge on something like this is working out what the worst conditions the rover might have to overcome will be, in terms of the temperatures and forces it is likely to meet.

“They are such big projects though. Overall it takes roughly 2,000 staff, hundreds of supplier companies and many thousands of tests in chambers designed to represent the conditions in space.”