Latest mission to Mars a special moment for teen with Arizona ties

NASA's latest mission to Mars will be a very special day not just for NASA, but for a teen with Arizona ties, who will become a part of history when the Perseverence rover finally touches down on the red planet.

According to a report on July 28 by the Associated Press, Perseverance, which will be summer 2020's third and final mission to Mars, will scrounge for evidence of past microscopic life in an ancient lakebed, and gather the most promising rock samples for future pickup. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to return the samples to Earth around 2031.

Teen's name etched on rover

To call Alex Yiu a "space enthusiast" would be an understatement.

"We've been taking him to planetariums, science museums," said Alex's mother, Caroline Cheung-Yiu. "He's a huge Star Wars movie fan, so all that, he's always really excited."

Alex just turned 15 years old, and all he wanted was to leave his mark on Mar. Alex's mother says it couldn't have been possible without the help from his teacher.

"She submitted his name, then got him a boarding pass and presented it as a gift to him," said Cheung-Yiu.

Alex's name is etched on a microchip and embedded on the rover. 

"He was all smiles when she gave him the pass, and told him where his name was going," said Cheung-Yiu.

Teen diagnosed with rare disorder

Alex lives with a very rare disorder known as NEDAMSS, and it took over a decade to diagnose.

According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center with the National Institute of Health, NEDAMSS, also known as IRF2BPL-related disorders, is a group if very rare neurodegenerative disorders with symptoms that generally get worse over time. It's a disorder that has left Alex bed-bound and non-verbal.

"This is a very new, newly discovered genetic disorder and so even though there is research right now, there’s still little known about how it functions and the cause and all that," said Cheung-Yiu.

"With Alex, he really started to see a loss in a lot of skills at age 6 and 7," said Keri Ramsey with the Phoenix-based TGen Institute. Ramsey was the one who was finally able to pinpoint the problem.

"Alex and his family had been on an amazing diagnostic odyssey for over 12 years, and I think it provided a really big sense of relief that they could finally figure out their son's symptoms," said Ramsey.

The illness has not kept Alex from shooting for the stars.

"He's an early riser, so he'll be up. He's very stuck on the NASA Channel, so we'll definitely be watching the launch," said Cheung-Yiu. "He's definitely excited. We've watched a couple other NASA launches in the last month, so he's up for it."