A Palestinian engineer, who was in the team that designed NASA’s mini Mars helicopter Ingenuity, is proud of being part of a historic event.
Loay Elbasyouni, born and raised in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun city and now lives in Los Angeles, California, spoke about his success story with Anadolu Agency.
Elbasyouni said he came to the US University of Louisville in 1998 and he would deliver pizza after school to earn his bread and added that he completed his higher education in electrical engineering.
After graduating, the Gazan engineer, who made researches on alternative energy, electric vehicles, and planes, was assigned to the team that built the helicopter sent to Mars for NASA in the last private company he worked for.
Just an idea
Elbasyouni noted that he was selected to the NASA team while specializing and working on super light, electronic power, electric aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
“It was just an idea that can you really fly on Mars?” he said, adding then they built a small miniature aircraft that was like “a toy.”
“They actually took that helicopter tested it in the chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it actually did not perform so good,” Elbasyouni said.
He said with the tests, they learned what mathematics and calculation to come up with to develop a model that will actually fly.
Recalling that he was not sure if an aircraft that can fly on Mars was achievable during the works, he said: “It was very complex, I mean we had to design a motor that actually operates at very cold temperature.”
The project started in 2014 with different teams in different fields, Elbasyouni said, adding he worked with other NASA engineers as chief engineer in Ingenuity’s design and construction team for more than four years.
‘My eyes literally tear’
Recalling his joy when he learned that he was part of the team, the engineer said: “That was like really exciting. I knew that that was going to be something on Mars,” he recalled.
“The day it [Ingenuity] landed on Mars safely, I was like okay I made it. I achieved to have a piece of hardware on Mars.”
The day the Ingenuity first flew, it was so much joy, he recalled and said: ”I shouted in the middle of the night waking up half of the building … My eyes literally [filled with] tears [while watching the live streaming].”
He said a lot of risks were taken and he felt himself like one of the Wright Brothers, who successfully flew the first motor-operated airplane in the US at the beginning of the 1900s.
“I mean I’m part of history,” he said, adding that Ingenuity successfully flew four times.
In the second flight, it was able to capture more scenes and it exceeded expectation, he said.
“And I’m really excited for the last and fifth flight,” Elbasyouni said, adding that he will continue engineering studies in electric vehicles and aviation.
Stating that he is interested in new discoveries in the field of electric energy use and that he can establish his own company in the future.
Away from home for 12 years
Noting that his father is one of the best surgeons of Palestine in Israeli occupied Gaza City, he said people living in his country strive for success.
From a young age, Elbasyouni did not see circumstances as an obstacle before his success and said: “I always knew I will succeed. Honestly, I have not reached my goals yet.”
Due to Israel’s occupation, he could not see his parents for 12 years and his brother for 14 years, he noted, saying his parents have moved to Germany.
“There’s nothing legally stopping me [from going to Gaza] but there is a risk,” he said.
“In engineering, we can predict everything, we can calculate everything and we can follow a project timeline.
“If I do the same thing with the situation in Gaza, if I say, I want to visit Gaza, what is the timeline? I cannot answer that question,” he said, adding that border closure and opening may occur anytime there.
“I have to be willing to sacrifice my career, my job and put myself at risk.”
He recalled that once his parents were stuck in Gaza for nine months and their visas got expired.
“They used to go to the Rafah crossing every day. It’s not easy,” he said.
Elbasyouni called on Gazan people not to lose hope despite challenges, stating that he worked on a mission he called “impossible.”
“I think they should dream, and they should believe in their hope.”
Perseverance and Ingenuity
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter remains attached to the Perseverance rover that landed on the red planet on Feb. 18 and is currently in transit to an airfield where it will attempt to fly.
On April 19, Ingenuity performed its first flight that lasted around a minute and became “the first aircraft flying on another planet.”
Ingenuity, which conducted four flights, stayed in the air for about two minutes at an altitude of five to six meters (16- 20 feet) above Perseverance on each flight and sent to the world the photos taken with a color camera.
As the atmospheric density on Mars is about 1% that of Earth, NASA engineers used ultra-light materials to lift the Ingenuity off the ground, and four propellers, each 123 centimeters long and spinning faster than required on Earth.