In January 2004, in the hilly area of the small town of Montrose in California, the US, fmaker Garo Anserlian from Executive Jewelers enhanced the watch for the hundreds of those who work in accordance with the day duration on Mars. On Mars, days are 39 minutes longer than the those of Earth.
Keeping an eye on the time difference and correcting it is an exhausting process. Every day, the members of the team controlling the rover Spirit and Opportunity are reporting 39 minutes later compared to the previous day.
“Everything on this mission is based on local solar time on Mars,” said Julie Townsend, the avionics system engineer of Mars Exploration Rover. “From home, during the mission practice tests, it was very difficult to constantly translate Earth time to Mars time.”
Along with her colleague Scott Doudrick, a systems engineer of Mars Exploration Rover, Townsend decided to find a solution to this problem. They asked several watchmakers for help, but each of them rejected them stating that it is impossible unless they place a large order of at least 10,000 quartz watches.
Anserlian’s store, a specialized workshop, features tables covered with disassembled watches, which as if reflects the intent of the watchmaker. For Anserlian, taking things apart is second nature.
“When I do something, I like to know the maximum about it. This is not just a hobby, it is my career,” stressed Anserlian.
Having inherited his passion from his father, Anserlian has been passing his knowledge on to his son David. Over the years, David has been coming up with his own ideas and dreams about taking over the dad’s store. David’s skills acquired under master watch– and clockmakers in Germany and Switzerland will surely allow him to take the job of his father to new heights.
Anserlian admitted that the request of the Mars Exploration Rover team has been the most bizarre he has ever received. It took him two months to develop, fine-tune, and optimize the process that could help watches maintain Mars time.
“Since I was a young child, I’ve put my heart into making very precise time pieces. Now, I was being asked to create a watch that was slow on purpose. It was going to be a challenge, if it was even possible. I spent more than $1,000 trying to figure this out, damaging watches, trying different parts, just searching for a way.”
Watchmaking is a highly precise and careful process that involves working with small details. To make the watch useful for the team of Mars Exploration Rover, Anserlian had to attach additional lead weights to the mechanism to precisely alter the movement of the watch wheels. Anserlian also chose to depict the Mars face on the watches as a design touch. Overall, this surely was a frustrating project.
“At one point, my helpers and I looked at each other and said, ‘Forget it, we’re wasting time and money,'” remarked Anserlian. But paying visits to the workshop and assuring Anserlian that the watches would be exceptionally valuable for the team, Townsend and Doudrick didn’t allow him to quit.
The very first watch was meant for Doudrick. After initial testing, it turned out that the watch was off by at most 10 seconds per every 24 hours of Earth time, which is a striking achievement for a fully mechanical watch. Fully staffed, the store was able to assemble about 10 watches per day. Their plans were to adapt 125 Asian-made mechanical watches for the entire Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars team, not just the Mars Exploration Rover team.
After providing all the team members with watches, Anserlian wished to showcase a limited edition of 1,000 watches complete with Mars’ faces and authenticating certificates at a price of $225 – 500 per watch. He was also considering to adapt his technique to alarm & wall clocks, and even pocket watches. Today, some of the Mars team watches are showcased in US museums, including the Carnegie Museum and the Forbes Museum in New York. Additionally, very few Martian Time Keepers now remain for purchase.
On January 2, Anserlian’s store was full of scientists from all over the US who were there to pick their watches.
Several days later, along with millions of people, Anserlian observed the near-perfect landing of Spirit. But he had a special personal connection with the mission and its success.
“I felt proud; I got goosebumps. 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,” said Anserlian.
And indeed, he had managed to help the team of scientists who addressed the ancient craft of watchmaking to resolve their modern problem. In defiance of the critics asserting that it could not be done, Anserlian together with the Mars Exploration Rover Team in the end resolved the seemingly insolvable problem.
Source: NASA: Watchmaker With Time to Lose
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