They said it couldn’t be done. But in the sleepy little town of Montrose, California, nestled in the hills surrounding JPL, master watchmaker Garo Anserlian of Executive Jewelers is perfecting a timepiece for hundreds of Earthlings bound to Mars’ irregular day. Past the glass cases of what looks like an ordinary jewelry store is a workshop where watches are losing 39 minutes a day.
Rover controllers have to monitor Spirit (and soon, Opportunity) all the time; this doesn’t just mean 24 hours a day ” it means 24 hours, 39 minutes a day. The martian day is longer than Earth’s, but this minimal variance can amount to physical and mental fatigue. Every day, team members are reporting to work 39 minutes later than the previous day.
“Everything on this mission is based on local solar time on Mars,” said Julie Townsend, Mars Exploration Rover avionics systems engineer. “From home, during the mission practice tests, it was very difficult to constantly translate Earth time to Mars time.”
Watchmaking is a careful process that involves very small parts and wheels. In order to make the watches useful to the Mars Exploration Rover team, Garo had to physically attach additional specific lead weights thus precisely altering the movement of the wheels and hands on certain existing famous-maker wristwatches. Working on the 21-jeweled self-winding mechanical wristwatches was sometimes frustrating.
“At one point my helpers and I looked at each other and said ‘forget it, we’re wasting time and money.’” But Townsend and Doudrick wouldn’t let him quit. The two came by his shop every week, assuring him that his highly anticipated watches would be a valuable asset to the team.
Garo finished Doudrick’s watch first and after initial testing, discovered that it was off by no more than ten seconds in 24 hours Earth time ” an amazingly accurate feat for an entirely mechanical watch. Now, when the store is fully staffed, the experts can retrofit and thus create about ten watches per day. After he accommodates all rover team members who wish to own a custom-made Mars watch, he will market his patented rarity to the public.
Garo watched with million of others as mission control described Spirit’s near-perfect landing. But his connection to the mission was personal.
“I felt proud; I got goosebumps,” he said. “I saw that some of them had two watches on and I thought, one of them was mine! I was proud as an American that it landed and secondly that my watches will be used.”
Used, indeed, by a team of scientists and engineers who looked to a truly old world craft for a solution to a very modern problem. And like the rover team, that faced countless challenges and criticism, Garo gets to say, “I told you so” to those who said it couldn’t be done.