Sidmouth man has some fin to do with Mars Curiosity rover

A “proud Sidmouth man” has helped create the robotic rover currently exploring Mars – in what Nasa scientists have dubbed “the mission of the decade”.

Ernie Grant, 72, grew up as one of three brothers in Myrtle Cottage, Newtown, and later moved to America to pursue his career as an engineer.

Most recently he worked on Curiosity, the roving laboratory about the size of a Mini which landed on the red planet two weeks ago to collect data about the planet and discover whether it could sustain life.

Ernie made the fins at the rear of Curiosity’s nuclear engine.

His brother, Peter, 65, said it was the crowning moment of a long and high-flying career.

“The whole family is very proud,” said the sibling who lives in Dunkeswell, near Honiton. To think that part of what he did is actually on Mars. He’s very modest – but I know that he’s watching its progress every day. It’s a big thing in America now.”

Nasa boss Charles Bolden was reported as saying: “Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chests out and saying, ‘That’s my rover on Mars.’”

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Curiosity is considered the most ambitious and complex space mission ever conceived – but Ernie Grant’s space scientist career started from humble beginnings.

He went to All Saints School, St Nicholas School and Woolbrook Secondary Modern before landing his first job at Timmingtons metal plant at the old Sidmouth railway station.

Then followed an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in Bristol, producing parts for Concorde and Harrier jets.

After that his career “took off” when Ernie moved to the USA to work for aerospace giants Boeing and Pratt & Whitney.

He worked on Nasa space shuttles such as Endeavour, Discovery and Columbus prior to the Mars rover.

Peter added: “I just wish Mum and Dad could have seen it – they would have been proud as punch.”

Despite his success, the high-flyer now settled in Los Angeles, has not forgotten his Sidmouth roots.

“He’s definitely a proud Sidmouth man,” said his sibling Peter.

“Last year we were walking around, the three of us, and getting quite nostalgic visiting the places where we grew up.”

Ernie retired from engineering last year and now restores old Volkswagens as a hobby.