NASA's 2020 Mars rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet approximately two years from now, but the paint job is more challenging than it sounds.

A paint job may sound like a simple task, but painting a rover bound for a mission in outer space could actually be a daunting task.

The Man For The Job

The U.S. space agency didn't worry about that because John Campanella is there to do the job. Campanella has been working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California for over two decades.

That is why when Campanella's friend wanted his Ferrari painted, he knew exactly who could do the job. Aside from painting NASA's space cars, he is also painting guitars, cars, motorcycles, 18-wheelers, and airplanes in his spare time.

They do a thousand different paint jobs in a year at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, from components as small as a pill to entire spacecraft fuselages. He worked on the first Mars rover Pathfinder, the Deep Impact mission GRAIL, and Juno and Cassini.  

It takes 5,000 engineering hours of assembling the chassis, including more than 3,000 drillings and more than a thousand rivet and fastener applications.

The Painting Process

The first step in the painting process is taping, since there are parts that must not be painted such as places where electronic boxes will be bolted on, wiring harnesses are still to be placed, and attachment points for hypersensitive science instruments.

"Any good paint job is preceded by a great tape job," said Campanella. "I wouldn't freestyle flames on a Camaro, and we sure don't freestyle Mars rovers."

About 600 pieces of masking tape come in all shapes and sizes for the rover. Some are smaller than a coin, about the size of a bagel, a serpent-shaped tape, and others are as large as a microwave oven.

The tape used in the 2020 Mission can be found in just about any hardware store. However, they don't simply tear these tapes with their hands or cut them with scissors. They have a computer-controlled cutter to make sure that each piece is exactly the shape and size they want it to be.

Paint Job Is Done

In September, the paint job was done.

"When we are in the paint room, it is all about business," said Campanella.

Now that their job is done, he wants his team to think that they are part of a dedicated team of professionals who are working on a historic space exploration mission.

Mars 2020 rover will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It is expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

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