TIME Magazine: MARS 1997 Sojourner - 2012 Curiosity Covers


This months time magazine for August 2012 is graced by an artist image of the Martian rover, Curiosity. "MARS" fills a fourth of the cover image, taking more space then the iconic "Time" at the top. When I pulled this periodical from the stacks it triggered an old memory. I felt that I had seen this cover before. When upon my next visit to my parent's attic storage of my youth, I was able to pull out one of my "save it" boxes. Old school papers, newspaper clippings, Star Trek Voyager TV guides and magazines filled this box. Many items were linked to space, from the MIR space station reentering the Earth's atmosphere in 2001, to the installation of the robotic arm on the new ISS. Tucked within the yellowing pages I pulled forth the object of my search. "MARS" again graces the cover of the July 1997 TIme magazine, only this time it bears slightly blurred and overly composted images of Sojourner, the little rover on the Pathfinder probe.

I remember back in the summer just before I entered middle school we were vacationing at Avila beach. Tucked in the back room of the beach house was a small CRT television where I watched a new era of space exploration begin. This was one of the first probes to land on the Red Planet in several decades. Not only would the Pathfinder lander study the Martian landscape, but it's little skateboard sized rover could actually patrol the surface. I remember being fascinated with the new landing technique developed for the lander. A pyramid of airbags would cushion the probe as it struck the surface with over 18 G's. After finally coming to a full and complete stop the three "petals" would open, self righting the probe if it had ended on it's side. Then the little rover that could would roll out at a whopping 2ft per minute! But the best part about Mars missions are the pictures. Sojourner's little modem (90's right!) transmitted images back at only 9600 bits per second. Faster than AOL dial up, but not by much.

All of this contrasted eloquently with Curiosity, the massive hummer (wheelbase) of Mars. Curiosity has been a hot topic for me these past few months. Primarily because my best friend Septhen, who I would meet the school year after Pathfinder, worked on Curiosity while at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Stephen has successfully made his rover into a Lego Cuusoo submission with over 10,000 votes. (we could almost buy our own ship for that). I am very confident it will pass the review process and become a purchasable set in the near future. I see this technological triumph as Stephen's rover. While I know that there are hundreds of amazingly talented engineers, scientists, workers and specialists who created and successfully flew Curiosity to Mars, for me it will always be the rover my best friend made...... and then turned into Lego.

So let us not forget our explorational spirit in these days where our gaze is pulled to maters at home. There will always be problems in government, overseas, gas prices, costs, time management, etc. The list will never get shorter, but that does not mean that TODAY we can turn our gaze upward and watch a little rover explore his new home in wonder.

"Mars, bringer of war for the greeks, bringer of wonder to the geeks. -Dr. Sci-fi"