JEZERO CRATER, Mars — Two Ilwaco High School graduates watched the Mars rover landing with pride.
That’s because brother and sister Leland Holeman and Amelia Cook have played an important part in the mission.
Their company, Goodwinds Composites of Mount Vernon, linked up with NASA when the space agency planned its latest search for signs of life on Mars.
A spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida last July with a tiny helicopter — called Ingenuity — clamped to the belly of the Perseverance rover.
After its 126 million mile journey, it landed on schedule Feb. 18.
Goodwinds Composites created the lightweight legs for the helicopter.
“We are pretty proud of it,” said Cook, whose eight employees watched the livestream NASA landing video as they enjoyed red velvet cupcakes in honor of the Red Planet.
“It’s pretty exciting, all right,” said Holeman. “I think we all love space exploration. It’s an interest for everyone. We stopped for a couple of hours and had a Martian-themed party — we had a great time.”
The brother and sister own a company that creates custom composite carbon rods and fiber glass materials for businesses. They are based in Mount Vernon, which is handy for Boeing in Everett.
Their involvement with Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Southern California, began a couple of years ago but had to remain confidential until about a few months ago. “It was nice when we got word that we could tell anyone,” Cook said.
She said engineers initially bought some samples anonymously a couple of times before revealing what was needed.
“We got to work with them to design tubes that were super-specific with specialized fabric to withstand ultra-violet radiation and temperature extremes, and flying through space and being in the super-thin Mars atmosphere,” she said. “They had to be impact resistant. It has been in the planning stage for quite a time.”
Proud local parents
Their parents, Jane and Roger Holeman, moved to the Peninsula when their children were young and saw them graduate from IHS — Amelia in 1999 and Leland in 2002.
Jane Holeman has long been a leading light with the Washington State International Kite Festival in Long Beach. The enthusiasm in her voice was palpable just an hour after the successful Mars landing. “This is really great,” she said. “We are all excited. They have worked really hard.”
The family owned the Super 8 in Long Beach. “We grew up with small business talk around the dinner table conversation,” Cook recalled. “When our parents sold the motel, they wanted to invest in their kids.”
As they completed college, Cook added an MBA from Western Washington University. About that time, a Seattle kite store was selling its separate supply business for carbon rods that were strong but lightweight.
They took over Goodwinds Composites in 2008. Cook began as inventory manager and accountant, while Holeman handled sales and cut the carbon and fiber glass. After a couple of years, they added employees, expanding into manufacturing when demand for composites from Boeing and others surged around 2010.
The business provides custom carbon and fiber glass rods for everything from large textile machinery to tiny drones and other aerospace projects. Cook said electric guitars, pool cues, hockey sticks and even pipe organs need the materials they create.
Marketing is handled by a long-time family friend, Keleigh Schwartz, who operates beachdog.com. “We have known her for 25 years,” Cook said, praising her creativity.
The operation is based in Mount Vernon because Cook’s husband, Tony Cook, a 1996 Ilwaco graduate, has a CPA job there. The Cooks’ three sons, now aged 6, 9 and 12, spent their infant years at their mom’s workplace.
Brother and sister working together isn’t an issue. “As much as we fought in high school, we are really well matched in running a business together,” Cook laughed.
Although the price tag on the project is confidential, Cook said there have been other benefits. “This has been an extremely profitable venture with NASA because we have had so much publicity — and fun.”