Mahoning Valley roads lead to … Mars?

“All roads lead to the Mahoning Valley.”

You might remember I wrote about that little expression we commonly tout in our newsroom because, well, they just do. Over and over again, it seems that we read national or even international stories on The Associated Press wire only later to find some local connection to them.

Well, here we go again.

The words began bouncing around the newsroom again last week after our reporter Bob Coupland discovered a local connection to a big story. This time, though, it wasn’t national or even international. It was galactic.

A microchip bearing the words “Girard Free Library Children’s Department” took off months ago from Cape Canaveral in Florida aboard a spaceship bound for, you guessed it, Mars. The Perseverance Mars rover touched down this month 313,586,649 miles away on the Red Planet carrying the Girard library microchip.

First, bravo to Maria Selak, children’s librarian, who thought up the idea to file an application for the project with NASA.

She said she got the idea from the library’s 2019 summer reading program named “A Universe of Stories.” The idea sent her to the NASA website where she learned that groups, organizations and businesses could get their names on microchips on the rover.

The Rover and the Girard Free Library Children’s Department microchip is expected to remain on our neighboring planet for some 10 years.

And, as any good librarian would do, the library took the opportunity to educate young readers and other visitors about the trip — and about Mars in general — by setting up a Mars rover exhibit.

I admit I know little about Mars, but I have read that the Perseverance rover touched down Feb. 18 near a Mars ancient river delta, where it will search for signs of ancient life and set aside the most promising rock samples for return to Earth in a decade, according to NASA.

The vehicle is healthy, according to NASA officials, after landing on a flat, safe surface in Jezero Crater with just 1 degree of tilt and relatively small rocks nearby. For a while, the systems were being checked. It was supposed to take a week before the rover started driving. By now, I suspect the little rover is on the move.

This, of course, isn’t the only Mahoning Valley road leading to outer space. If you read my previous column on this topic, you might recall I reflected on the space shuttle Columbia disintegrating Feb. 1, 2003, as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. On board was an experiment involving internet communications equipment prepared by Warren native and Western Reserve High School graduate astronaut Ron Parise.

And here’s another one.

When I worked as the Tribune Chronicle business editor before moving into my current role several years ago, I got to visit a North Lima company that had been hoping to provide vehicles for a NASA project aiming to send enormous balloons into space.

I had toured that Mahoning County company’s factory in 2013, and I recall the manager telling me about their work to create and build a vehicle that could maneuver easily, adapt quickly to shifts in wind direction and — wait for it — carry a balloon the size of a football field.

At the time NASA was experimenting with enormous balloons that could pick up a payload that weighs tons and float into the stratosphere to satellites.

Yep. Where else but in the Mahoning Valley?

And just maybe there will be more outer space connections for us to write about someday.

Selak told us she sent a letter years ago to NASA saying if they ever wanted to send a librarian into space, she would volunteer happily.

“They sent a teacher so I thought, why not a librarian?” she said.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t gotten a response yet.

If I were her, I wouldn’t give up. After all, this is the Mahoning Valley.



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