Pathfinder's Legacy

Officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California bid a "reluctant goodbye" this week to the Mars Pathfinder and its roving sidekick, Sojourner. For US space scientists, this was a hugely successful mission - both in generating fresh data about the fabled red planet, and in demonstrating that planetary exploration could be done on a budget.

In the long term, the latter accomplishment could prove more important than the former. It became clear years ago that open-ended, Apollo-type projects were no longer an option. That approach got men to the moon, but it wouldn't carry them - or their technological surrogates - far beyond that. Politics and cost can be tougher to overcome than gravity.

Pathfinder operated longer than its creators anticipated. Its pictures and chemical analyses will feed scientific curiosity for years. And all on $266 million - peanuts by space standards.

Will Pathfinder mark a milestone in the evolution of space travel? Some scientific thinkers, such as physicist Freeman Dyson writing in the current Atlantic Monthly, emphasize the need for a more economical approach to space travel, with a time frame of 100 years out. To what end? Ultimately, human colonization of Mars and even more distant spheres.

The space age has only begun.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK