By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
When Jason Achilles Mezilis saw the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover land safely, he admits, with a laugh, that he “cried like a little bitch.” He had reason to, though.
The Studio City, California, musician worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to perfect Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover’s microphone used to record sounds inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater.
“Music was always a dream,” Mezilis says. “It was an attainable dream. Space is rad, but I didn’t think it would ever be a real thing. The last number of years, though, I thought, ‘Maybe it can be a thing.’”
Encouraged by ASU professor Jim Bell, Mezilis made both of his dreams come true.
“Jim Bell was one of my main guys who said, ‘Don’t worry. You can do this,’” Mezilis says. “Weirdly enough, he was right.”
Mezilis connected with NASA by banging on doors and rattling cages, he says with a laugh. He broke through after pitching David Gruel (assembly, test and launch operations manager for Mars Perseverance at JPL) his concepts for informing a working audio selection, largely based on his work as an audio engineer for the past decade.
“When I was hired as a consultant for JPL in 2017, I had to incorporate because they couldn’t hire me as an individual,” Mezilis says. “I had to start a company, Zandef Deksit Inc. Since then, we’ve been developing an idea for this selfie cam for rocket landings. It’s this Lunar ExoCam.”
Mezilis landed a $650,000 grant from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program to develop that. The grant calls for him to work with an educational institution, so he chose ASU. Once Lunar ExoCam hits the surface, it can visualize a landing as if the viewer was standing there watching it.
Besides ASU, the Lunar ExoCam project also includes contributions from Honeybee Robotics, Ecliptic Enterprises Corp. and Masten Space Systems.
“I didn’t go to school for this type of work or study it,” Mezilis says. “I’m a professional musician. It’s something I’ve just wanted to do.”
Mezilis has been a professional musician since high school. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he toured as a solo instrumentalist under the name Jason Achilles, accompanied by drummer Forrest Mitchell.
He also runs his Downtown LA boutique analog recording studio, Organic Audio Recorders, and is working with Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses) on his forthcoming solo album.
“People had a hard time remembering my last name,” says Mezilis, who loves The Rogue Bar in Phoenix. “I would just get blank stares.
“But music and science are my everything. For me, it’s personally been wonderful. One of the cool things about working with NASA is Perseverance had to land that day. This was beyond the programs of the world. NASA pulled this off and made it work just incredibly.”
Mezilis is set to release a new EP later this spring, which was launched with the release of the single “RTL (Ready To Launch)” in December. The second single, “Eurotrash,” debuted February 26 across all streaming platforms.
He rolls his two loves into talks with students in grades kindergarten through sixth-grade students. “I’ve been a big nerd about space since I was a kid,” he says.
“I like going and talking to kids about this stuff. I’ve been doing Zoom classes with third graders ever since this thing landed. I’ve had a lot of requests to talk to kids about this stuff. I try to tie in the music aspect of things. Rocket science is an unreachable goal to kids. Music is already something that’s already part of their lives. That might seem crazy, but this is something you’re doing already.”
The whole experience has been a thrill for Mezilis. But there is a “but.” His name is nowhere on the NASA website.
“If you go on the NASA website, my name’s not associated with anything anywhere. I have no idea if history recognized the involvement or not. It’s pretty (expletive) cool to me. I would love to be attached to this,” he says. “We did play a relevant role in it. I don’t think it’s undeserved.” CT
Jason Achilles Mezilis