Home / Science / From Gaza to Mars: Palestinian engineer behind helicopter flight on the red planet

From Gaza to Mars: Palestinian engineer behind helicopter flight on the red planet

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza electronics engineer Loay Elbasyouni, worked with the NASA team that made history this month by launching an experimental helicopter from the surface of Mars.

But he said a trip to his hometown of Gaza, where the poster will celebrate his achievements, would feel far from the restrictions of Israel and Egypt.

“When you deal with electrons and technology, you can calculate things and know their paths,” he told The Associated Press in a video interview from his home in Los Angeles. Politics, you don’t know where things can get to where. ”

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The 42-year-old has made a miraculous journey from the tough Beit Hanoun near the tightly protected Israeli border to the U.S. space agency̵

7;s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he works as a design-assisted contractor. Ingenuity helicopter

He left Gaza in 1998 to continue his studies in the United States and returned only once for a short visit in 2000 before the second Palestinian terrorism or the uprising that began later that year. 1,000 Israeli and 6,000 Palestinians were killed in Palestinian attacks, suicide bombs and other terror attacks and subsequent Israeli military operations.

The fighting is particularly fierce in and around border towns such as Beit Hanoun Elbasyouni said Israeli military tanks had destroyed his father’s orchard four times.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but two years later Hamas Islamic militants seized power from rival Palestinian forces. Since then, Israel and Egypt have maintained a siege that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the narrow coastline home to more than 2 million Palestinians. Prevented the Hamas group, which tried to destroy Israel from importing weapons

Abdelwahab Elbasyouni, Loay Elbasyouni’s uncle, space engineer, who was part of the NASA team that made history this month by launching an experimental helicopter from the Martian surface, stands on the balcony of the house adorned in his honor, where Loay’s family once lived. In Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, April 26, 2021 (Adel Hana / AP)

As the Gaza Strip faced one crisis after another, Elbasyouni continued his studies in the United States.

He struggled to get his tuition at the University of Kentucky, especially after the family farm was degraded. At one point, he said he worked more than 90 hours a week at Subway to meet up. He eventually moved to the University of Louisville where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering.

In 2012, he was hired by a technology company developing electric planes.Two years later it was awarded a contract from NASA for the Mars helicopter program and Elbasyouni was promoted to Chief Electronics Engineer.

He spent six years working with other NASA scientists to develop helicopter propulsion systems, controllers and other critical components.

The robotic helicopter he developed took a ride to Mars with the Perseverance probe launched into space by rocket in July 2020, he said his senses. It was “inexplicable” when he watched it touch onto the surface of the Red Planet in February.

Elbasyouni followed every moment of the journey and anxiously awaited a signal that the helicopter was working upon launch. When the first photo arrived Earth showed a helicopter in flight. “I screamed in the middle of the night and woke everyone inside the building,” he said.

It is a highly regarded achievement as the Wright brothers in aviation history. Since then, Elbasyouni has given numerous TV interviews with Western and Arab media and has become a hometown hero in Beit Hanoun.

But he said he is unlikely to visit soon due to travel restrictions.

To visit, he will have to go through Jordan or Egypt, as Israel does not allow Kazan to fly in or out of the international airport.

In Jordan, he had to wait for a special shuttle to take him from the Allenby Bridge across the Israeli-controlled West Coast and Israel to the Erez Crossing with Gaza.The unusual shuttles only operate every few days. Each direction will require a license from Israel, a complex, time-consuming and uncertain process.

Permits to leave Gaza are usually only given to patients in need of life-saving medical care or a small number of businessmen.

His other option would be to go through Egypt and attempt to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which opens only sporadically and can be closed for months at a time. Egypt imposes its own restrictions on Palestinians, who require a travel permit and sometimes pay exorbitant fees to promote.

He said his father, who retired from his position as a surgeon in 2012 and now lives in Germany, visited Gaza through Egypt in 2019 and was stuck there for seven months before leaving through Israel.

A full-scale replica of the Ingenuity helicopter displayed for the press at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, February 17, 2021. (Damian Dovarganes / AP)

Elbasyouni pointed out that most Americans, including space engineers, get only two or three weeks of vacation a year. “If you go (to Gaza), you might get stuck and lose your job,” he said.

The restrictions on all fronts have been tightened since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. But it happened a long time ago

Israel said they were necessary to prevent Gaza insurgents from bringing weapons and war materials into the Palestinian coastal region. Hamas has waged three wars against Israel and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West. It has launched tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli cities.

COGAT, the Israeli military agency in charge of coordinating civil affairs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said it would consider individual requests and allow humanitarian aid travel. Each request said it was received. “Thorough investigation involving all relevant professional offices and under consideration for safety”

Critics of the siege say it is a collective punishment, with generations of Kazan people being held in vast open-air prisons.

Gisha, an Israeli rights group closely monitoring the shutdown and advocacy of freedom of movement, said “severe and widespread restrictions” meant that “future scientists, entrepreneurs and creators of Gaza are barred from. Access educational and external professional opportunities that may change the life of The Strip. “

Despite the political situation, Elbasyouni said there is still an opportunity for Palestinian entrepreneurs and creators, even in Gaza, and he hopes he can inspire young Palestinians.

“Being part of this project to serve humanity is a source of great pride,” he said.

Israeli Times officials contributed to the report.

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