Okay, okay, fine. I know that “Fly Me to the Moon” is more of an Apollo song. I’ve kind of had Apollo on the mind recently since the odds are pretty good that I’ll be able to go to the 50th Anniversary Reunion program while I’m in Oshkosh, and just being able to set eyes on those guys is pretty dang thrilling to me.
But there’s a reason for my lyrical appropriation. Put your rotten fruit away for a little while and think back twenty years ago. The Internet was still in its nascent stages, when a clean white background and crisp Times New Roman typeface were all that you needed to show that you were a Serious Webpage… though if you wanted to lighten things up a little bit, you might do a paragraph or two in color and throw in some smileys while you were at it. I can’t be too harsh, though, because I committed some of those same sins when I was first dabbling in web design – and let’s face it, the website which JPL set up for their brand-new Mars mission was pretty swish for its time. (Put your way-back goggles on and take a look.)
That’s right – today’s the twentieth anniversary of Pathfinder. In more recent memory we know it as the lander which had a brief, noble second life enabling Mark Watney to communicate with Earth before being brutally fried by a Macgyvered rock drill. Twenty years ago, though, Pathfinder made history as the first lander to successfully arrive and operate on Mars since the days of the Viking probes. Viking 2 landed on Mars in September 1976, so that’s just short of 31 years. Sojourner gained even more fame as the first rover to successfully operate on Mars. It was only “alive” for 85 days, but that was far longer than originally planned for. And the photos… cleanse your mental palate for now of the gorgeous snapshots sent our way by the newer Mars crew and feast your eyes.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? And yet we still have so far yet to go…
Moving along. One year and one day ago, if you pulled up Google, you probably saw this:
The night before, a significant portion of America’s population was preoccupied with explosives, barbecue, and beer – but Juno’s mission team had something else on their minds. Would their probe make it safely to its destination after five years of travel? This would be no small feat, since they had to play a kind of high-stakes orbital dodgeball using a solar-powered trefoil roughly the size of a basketball court. Their daring paid off, though, and we’re getting some amazing science. Also, naming a Jupiter-bound probe after the mythological figure’s vengeful wife? Pretty clever.
One more notable thing about Juno – its camera. The purpose of space imagery up until this point has been science first, public engagement second. Junocam turns that around by letting the public vote on which of Jupiter’s features they want the probe to photograph. Those images are then uploaded to the mission gallery where the public can download, edit, and resubmit them. The raw imagery is beautiful in and of itself, but that public engagement factor is remarkable in and of itself.
And while we’re talking about Juno, let’s not forget that this happened…
So maybe you’ll forgive my appropriation of Sinatra. Pathfinder, Sojourner, and Juno have each given us remarkable insights into our neighboring planets and are worthy of being celebrated – as are the people who have shepherded these craft along their way.