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It was just an idea that can you really fly on Mars?” he said, adding then they built a small miniature aircraft that was like “a toy.”

“They actually took that helicopter and tested it in the chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it actually did not perform so well,” Elbasyouni said.

“I mean I’m part of history,” he said

Highlighting Loay’s success in his recent address to the 156th League of Arab States Council Meeting, UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini said: “Loay’s achievements are impressive and a tribute to a mix of brilliance and bravery that has possessed.
Leaving Gaza as a youth and not being able to see his family for years did not stop Loay from achieving his dream: he went from Gaza to NASA! What an inspiration to thousands of young people and young refugees. The sky is indeed the limit for the hopes and dreams for this next generation of artists, scientists, and everything in between.”

” Space Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1983 for the global space ecosystem, is proud to announce the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Ingenuity Flight Team as the recipient of the 2021 John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration. The NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has proven itself a milestone in aviation and aeronautics history by performing the first flight of a powered and controlled aircraft on another planet, allowing observation of Mars from an aerial perspective, and enabling the collection of data about conducting flight in a challenging atmosphere.”

Engineer Loay Elbasyouni was part of the team that created an innovative type of helicopter that flew over the surface of Mars in April 2021. The helicopter, named Ingenuity, performed the first ever controlled flight by an aircraft on another planet. But Loay grew up a long way from NASA and the US. He is from the Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian Territories, and lived through the first Intifada as a child. He tells Emily Webb about the many obstacles he had to overcome to be part of that historic moment in space exploration.

I was at NASA when we fly a helicopter for the first time, it was an amazing experience

When Loay Elbasyouni was a 10-year-old boy growing up in the besieged Gaza Strip in Palestine, he built his first antenna from kitchen parts and aluminum foil so he could receive TV channels. Even then, he envisioned building his own startup company. But having the opportunity to work for a company that helped NASA develop the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet, went beyond even his fertile young imagination.

“You cannot imagine the feeling,” Elbasyouni said. “I didn’t sleep at all the night of the flight, I was up watching the feed all night.”

The engineer began working for AeroVironment, Inc. in 2012, where he was selected to work with NASA on the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter project, which he did from 2014 to mid-2018 when he completed the flight hardware. He was elated to see it come to fruition in the first flight on April 19.

“Every day I had been waiting for the moment when it was going to fly,” he said. “It was incredibly exciting.”

“After September 11, I was attacked delivering pizza to some drunk students,” Elbasyouni said. “It also meant it was harder to get a job because companies preferred U.S. citizens, so you had to apply twice as hard to find the right company who was interested in who you really are.”

Elbasyouni has not returned to Palestine since 2000, and last saw his family in 2011 in Germany, where they now reside and he can visit them as travel restrictions become less COVID-strict.

“I went for 11 years without seeing my mom,” he said. “That was tough. She used to cry every day.”

Growing up in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, Elbasyouni witnessed the First Intifada (1987-1993). His education was in UNRWA schools in Gaza. “This taught me from a young age never to give up because you can achieve what you dream,” he explained.

“I’m very active in our Palestinian cause. I’m a volunteer with several NGOs which help people in Palestine; in education and other fields, for example. During the military offensives against Gaza, I was on the front line of protests and I have even talked to the US Congress to help in any possible way”.

Loay Elbasyouni tells “Studying and understanding space will help us to understand things on Earth,” he

“investment in science helps all of humanity”.

“I was responsible for electrical systems that included motors, controllers, the motor algorithms, servo motor selections, servo controllers, and all the wiring and communication with Ingenuity‘s body,” he said.

“Even with a US passport, it is hard to travel back to Gaza,” he said. “I can’t be sure that if I traveled to visit my family I would not get stuck there if the border closed.”

“I chose to live in Los Angeles because it has similar weather to Gaza,” he said. “I live near the sea, where I go every day and remember the old Gaza seaport where I spent most of my childhood”.

“When you deal with electrons and technology, you can calculate things and know their path, When you deal with people and politics, you don’t know where things can go.”” he told The Associated Press news agency

He struggled to afford tuition at the University of Kentucky, especially after the family farm was bulldozed. At one point he said he worked more than 90 hours a week at a Subway sandwich shop to make ends meet. He eventually transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering.

In 2012, he was hired by a technology company that was developing electric aircraft. Two years later, the company joined NASA on the Mars helicopter project, and Elbasyouni was promoted to lead electronics engineer.

Gazan behind Mars drone says visiting home is no small step

Elbasyouni noted that he was selected to the NASA team while specializing and working on super light, electronic power, electric aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

“It was just an idea that can you really fly on Mars?” he said, adding then they built a small miniature aircraft that was like “a toy.”

“They actually took that helicopter and tested it in the chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it actually did not perform so well,” Elbasyouni said.

“I mean I’m part of history,” he said,

Noting that his father is one of the best surgeons of Palestine in Israeli-occupied Gaza City, he said people living in his country strive for success.

From a young age, Elbasyouni did not see circumstances as an obstacle before his success and said: “I always knew I will succeed. Honestly, I have not reached my goals yet.”

“In engineering, we can predict everything, we can calculate everything and we can follow a project timeline.

NASA scientists created history yesterday when they flew a small helicopter on Mars – an epic achievement, over 170,000,000 miles from Earth.

For one of the lead NASA engineers in California, Loay Elbasyouni, this incredible journey mirrored his own adventure after growing up in Gaza in the Middle East and moving to America as a 20-year-old to study.

We were able to speak to him a few days ago as he and the team made their final preparations.

He said a lot of risks were taken and he felt himself like one of the Wright Brothers, who successfully flew the first motor-operated airplane in the US at the beginning of the 1900s.

“I mean I’m part of history,” he said, adding that Ingenuity successfully flew four times.

In the second flight, it was able to capture more scenes and it exceeded expectations, he said.

“And I’m really excited for the last and fifth flight,” Elbasyouni said, adding that he will continue engineering studies in electric vehicles and aviation.

“In engineering, we can predict everything, we can calculate everything and we can follow a project timeline.

Elbasyouni lived in the Gaza Strip during the brief period of peace, after the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1994 between the PLO and Israel. He left Gaza in 1998 to study in the United States, but he returned briefly to visit his family in August 2000. He then flew back to the United States, about two weeks before the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 — that was his last visit.

“Since the time of the Wright Brothers’ first flight on earth in 1903, to today in 2021 flying a helicopter on Mars. It’s practically like two points in aviation history,” said Elbasyouni, currently the senior director of engineering at Astrodyne TDI.

“We’re working on electric propulsion that could be utilized for alternative modes of transportation like electric aircraft,” Elbasyouni explained. “It could be used for something for space just like the Mars helicopter.”

“So we had to consider a lot of these things plus the environment and other conditions and design something to be super lightweight. At the same time, you know you have to design the propeller to be much larger than it is on Earth and also spin about five times faster.”

“The greatest moment of happiness was when we took the first flight, ” explained Loay. “I was so happy and so proud to be on such a team. My hope since I left Gaza when I was a kid, was always to start a company that could make a change in the world, and I’m still on that mission, so I don’t really see this point as ‘I reached my goals’, it’s just like another step in my career.”

يقول البسيوني عن هذه الفترة “كانت الحياة بعد 11 سبتمبر غاية في الصعوبة، ولم أتمكن من دفع رسوم الدراسة، ولم يتمكن والدي من المساعدة على الإطلاق، لأن إسرائيل جرفت بساتين البرتقال والزيتون الخاصة بالعائلة”.

“عمل ما تحب، وأن تحب ما تعمله”، ويقول “أنا مهتم بشدة بالطاقة البديلة، وأسعى لتغيير واسع وإحلال مصادر الطاقة النظيفة والبديلة محل المصادر التقليدية للطاقة. وأنا بصدد تأسيس شركتي الخاصة، وفي مرحلة اللقاء مع مستثمرين جادين لتطوير تقنيات الطاقة الشمسية والكهربائية الممكن استخدامهما في الكثير من التطبيقات العملية”.