The Mars Science Laboratory, better known as Curiosity, touched down on Mars Monday in another triumph for NASA and engineers on Earth.
Investors may not know that many of their technology companies played a huge part in the system design, software, features and functions.
Part of the $2.5 billion spent by NASA to determine whether Mars can support life went to some of the best-known names in technology.
Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), the No. 1 chipmaker, which owns design software Wind River Systems, supplied its real-time operating systems VxWorks, to allow for internal communications on the lander.
VxWorks previously was used in some of the older missions to the Moon as well as the previous Mars Pathfinder Mission. Intel, of Cupertino, Calif., acquired Wind River Systems in 2009 precisely for its expertise in these "embedded systems."
Well-known defense contractors including Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK) were major equipment suppliers to the Mars mission.
As well, the transponders that enable deep space communications came from General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), another military powerhouse.
Germany's Siemens (NYSE: SI) provided NASA with its product lifecycle management (PLM) software that designed the entire module on computers. Siemens acquired UGS in 2007; the company was spun out of Electronic Data Systems to private-equity companies including Bain Capital before EDS was bought by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).
Other principal vendors to NASA include GenCorp. (NYSE: GY), whose Aerojet division built the engines that lowered the module to the Martian surface; Emcore Corp. (Nasdaq: EMKR) made the solar panels that power the unit.
Private American Bicycle Group said its Litespeed unit of Chatanooga, Tenn., supplied the titanium tubing for Curiosity's chassis and suspension system.
Curiosity was launched last Nov. 26. Since then, shares of Intel have gained 16 percent, trading Monday at $26.45, up 22 cents.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...