Since Pathfinder landed on July 4th, 1997, there has been a continuous active robotic presence on Mars. There has also been another continuous presence: the names of Planetary Society members. When Pathfinder landed, The Planetary Society announced that the names of all 100,000 of our members at the time were included on the spacecraft, immortalizing their dedication to advancing space science and exploration.
For the June 2022 issue of The Planetary Report, we reached out to all of those members who are still with us and asked them to share their thoughts on what Pathfinder means to them, why they've been with us all this time, and what they're looking forward to in the future of Mars exploration.
The complete collection of answers is presented below, in the members' own words.
When I joined the Society in 1980, I was a young woman with visions for the future of space exploration. Now I am an elderly woman, knowing that only my name can go to space. I hope to live at least another ten years, during which time I hope to see a colony on Mars, and much more knowledge of all the planets calling Sol home. I wish for Earth to be restored, but I know that our species must move to the stars. I will always continue to watch, listen, and imagine for what our future holds. We are meant to explore. My heart lies somewhere out there.
I recall my excitement in watching Pathfinder landing reporting live on CNN. As a kid I had no choice but to memorize the pictures sent back from the Viking missions in the 70s and was kind of disappointed that whichever astronomy books I used to look at, it was always the same Viking pictures from the Red planet. So finally Pathfinder meant that if successful, I would get to see new views of the Martian surface and the idea of testing a rover for the first time with a mobile camera added to the variety of images from the surface!
In retrospect, the Pathfinder mission was indeed pivotal as its name suggested back then, in that it reinvented the Mars exploration programme for NASA after a 20 year absence following the Viking missions. The success of Pathfinder breathed life into more ambitious missions such as Spirit and Opportunity and the current Curiosity and Perseverance missions.
I have been a supporter of space exploration since I first listened to Alan Shepard's suborbital flight (via radio broadcast in my fifth grade class), and love being part of the Planetary Society. With all the current terror in our world, it can be helpful to look into worlds beyond for a little perspective. Thanks for all you do.
-Christine Mack Gordon, USA
It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years. So much - good and bad - has happened on this planet while Pathfinder explored another, perhaps future outpost for humanity.
What I recall from Pathfinder’s arrival on Mars was that I was sitting in what had been my childhood bedroom at my father’s house in Toronto and watching the news on a tv he had set up there. Unless my memory is failing me, I wrote the first and only letter to The Planetary Society immediately afterwards, which was actually published in The Planetary Report. I’m sure I kept a copy but can’t put my hands on it just now.
But I remember feeling like the Earth, and indeed the universe had gotten just a little smaller and our future as a species a little more secure.
A lot has changed since that day. In December I buried my father after caring for him in that same house. My career has taken me all over the world and for the past 17 years I’ve made British Columbia my home.
I also have two children who have inherited my curiosity about the cosmos.
I’ve forgotten more things than I remember, but the day Pathfinder made it to Mars stands out as one of those rare moments etched into my memory. Having some small personal connection to it through The Planetary Society remains a source of joy.
-Curt Petrovich, Canada
Having worked for three years on Apollo, and taught astronomy for 34 years (28 years when Pathfinder landed), I have always been a space enthusiast, perhaps even fanatic. I was an early member of the Planetary Society for this reason, and continue, despite retiring 19 years ago, to promote and cheer on our progress. I just hope to still be around when the first human footprints join Pathfinder and so many other probes on Mars.
-Thomas Wm. Hamilton, USA
When I was young, I could only use my imagination, or some artist's imagination, to “see” the other planets of our solar system. Now, Mars is oddly familiar terrain, and the other planets feel closer to home.
Our smallness in the cosmos makes the beauty of our home on Earth all the more amazing and all the more fragile. My hope is that the more we understand our place in the universe, the more we’ll care for our home, not to mention feeling a little more humble and appreciative.
-Dennis Moritz, USA
Space science and astronomy is my lifelong passion and hobby. I enjoyed Carl Sagan and jumped at the chance to join TPS in 1981 and support NASA. In some small way we - the like-minded - advance this most noble of human endeavors. As far as we know only humanity can appreciate Mars and The Expanse beyond. As far as we know that ability is the reason for our existence. Perhaps there is more. But if only to stand in awe of and reverence to the infinite beauty of being, and to say that we have done so, then that is enough. Pathfinder is that statement.
-Harry R. Reinhart, USA
I think Pathfinder is a powerful statement about the efficiency and economy of unmanned space exploration. The life-threatening risks of takeoff and re-entry aside, we have more than a half-century of experience that demonstrate the fragility of the human body in prolonged zero gravity. Human creativity and curiosity can be cultivated without the need for toilets in space.
I am proud my name is on Pathfinder, as part of the Planetary Society. Pathfinder is an example of human endeavor at its finest - exploration to benefit us all, science that will benefit us all, as humanity and as stewards of our planet of origin.
I was born in 1966 in Southern California in the midst of the space race, and Von Braun, Ley, Clarke and Bonestell were my idols. I gathered Viking clippings. Cosmos was required viewing, as was the message of truth for truth's sake. And then we had the Grand Tour(s). Murray, Sagan and Friedman were doing it right - and I wanted to support them; I still do. I personally believe in manned space and colonization of space and other planets, but I certainly support unmanned exploration too. Mars exploration is a necessary prelude to Martian colonization. How about an article on what one million tons shipped to Mars would look like?
Keep it up, Planetary Society.
-Alan De Salvio, USA
I was 14 when President Kennedy announced the Moon Program. He said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." I was so filled with pride and a sense of adventure and accomplishment by those words! I had been writing science fiction stories for a couple of years by then, and now here was one of them coming true. We were going to the Moon!
I have now, for 61 more years, followed all the human race's space technology accomplishments. I can't recite them all anymore, but there was a time when I could name the dates and missions of all the US space probes and satellites. I know that Explorer 1 was our country's first Earth satellite, launched in January 1958, just 3 months behind the Soviet Sputnik. I know that John Glenn orbited the earth on February 20 (my birthday!) 1962, 10 months behind Yuri Gagarin, but he did 3 orbits and Yuri only did 1. Of course, German Titov orbited Earth for a full day in August of 1961, but we were on a roll. A roll that would take US astronauts to the Moon, something the Russians never accomplished!
I became a charter member of the Planetary Society in 1982. Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. I have many of his books, and even a few by Ann Druyan. I have asked my wife, should I pre-decease her, to see that my ashes are carried aloft by an Earth-to-Sky Calculus balloon to be spread in the stratosphere. I will be a member of the Planetary Society until I thus slip the surly bonds of Earth and join my heroes in the sky.
-Randolph (Randy) B Jones, USA
The urge to explore, discover, and understand is inherent in all of us. We strive to reach the other side of the hill, simply because we must. Exploring our solar system is a natural extension of that intrinsic human need to seek, to experience, to exploit, and to know.
Exploring beyond Earth exceeds our individual abilities. It is an endeavor for nations.
Through membership and support of The Planetary Society, like-minded people have a collective voice to urge our nations on, to encourage the lifting of our heads, to insist that we dream, dare, and do. That seems to be the purpose of the society and the hope of its membership. It’s my hope and it’s the reason I’m a member.
-Theodore (Ted) Forte, USA
It's been a fascinating journey, watching Pathfinder as it traveled across Mars and all the discoveries it's made. I'm proud of the part the Planetary Society has played and hope that future generations on Mars will see all the people that contributed to their reality.
I have a rather special connection to the Pathfinder Mission. This is one of the highlights of my 50 years of continuous scientific involvement in geological Mars research.
During the Pathfinder Mission planning I worked somewhat informally with the rover team on the terrestrial terrain experiments for surface operations. The field experiments were held in a region that I had researched since the late 1960s: the Channeled Scabland of eastern Washington state. The specific field site was a boulder-strewn terrain that had been emplaced by immense, catastrophic flooding during Earth's most recent Ice Age, about 16,000 years ago. The actual landing on Mars (July 4, 1997) also occurred on a boulder-strewn terrain that had been emplaced by immense channel-forming, mega-flooding events, as described in my 1982 book The Channels of Mars. However, these catastrophic floods occurred more than 3 billion years ago, a time when Mars most probably also had an ocean-like water body on its northern plains.
It turned out that in 1997 I was the Vice-President and President-Elect of The Geological Society of America (and a former Chair of its Planetary Geology Division). On October 21, 1997, at the annual meeting of the Society in Salt Lake City, it was my distinct privilege to present an honorary GSA membership to Sojourner, the spunky little Pathfinder Rover, who was the very first "geologist" to explore surface of Mars. Though Sojourner could not be present to accept the award in-person (being on Mars at the time), it was most graciously received on her behalf by the very surprised Pathfinder Mission Scientist, Matt Golombek.
-Vic Baker, USA
As a Charter Member of the society it's been quite a ride over the last 42 years! I greatly enjoy being able to stay abreast of space exploration of all types and from all countries. I lived in LA for the first 11 years of our society’s existence and remember spending a Saturday at the JPL Labs and actually seeing the then, yet to be launched, Galileo probe because of my membership.
The ‘icing on the cake’ regarding my membership is that my name is on Pathfinder and other missions flying through space. You asking us to respond to what Pathfinder means to me made me realize that my name could be floating somewhere thru space for billions of years to possibly be found at some time by another civilization. I wish I could go to Mars, and beyond, to paraphrase Buzz Lightyear, but it’s gratifying to know that a tiny ‘piece’ of me will be residing on Mars for a long, long time!
-Gary Rosensteel, USA
Pathfinder is a milestone in Space Exploration, and I am proud to have my name on bord. I am a great fan of Carl Sagan, the pioneer for Planetary Society, and it is a privilege to be with him, although he is no longer with us. In 1997 I turned 60, and now after 25 years I am fascinated by what we have achieved in space; just think of the Light Sail. Lao Tzu said: think positively and live in the present. I continue to do so.
Thanks for the reminder that TPS helped send our names to Mars on the Pathfinder!
As a young engineer, I remember being at an Air Show at Robins Air Force Base and meeting a young Bobby Braun from Georgia Tech. He was at a booth talking about the development of the entry descent and landing system for the pathfinder rover. Bobby Braun went on to NASA and started the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. Later, I would also work at NASA and be the Principal Investigator for the NIAC Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment Study (PHLOTE) study. At NASA Langley Research Center, I was fortunate to have collaborated with several engineers who worked on the Viking Missions. One, Jerome Pearson, was my Co-I on the PHLOTE Study and another John Paulson, who coined the term Sol, was a mean hand on the Ping Pong Table at Wallops Missile Range!
As the PI for the Mars Ice Home Study, I am proud of the concept that the MIH team pulled together. Because it was so innovative, it received a lot of public attention and it pops up on any search of Mars habitats. As a judge for the RASC-AL Moon to Mars Ice Drilling Challenge, I talked to the students about the Ice Home and the challenges of living on Mars. I also used the Mars Ice Home as the focus of a Mars Greenhouse Challenge. Interns from the winning teams developed the CYBELLE Greenhouse Concept of Operations for the NASA BIG Idea Challenge. I have also been fortunate to work with a lot of other projects and people that have developed hardware to explore Mars.
Pathfinder did break a lot of ground and I still have that pathfinder flip token I got at the Robins airshow all those years ago!
Pathfinder will always be remembered as the first rover to drive on Mars. No one can take that away from Pathfinder. I’ve been a member for 30 years now, and I hope you can report one day that someone checked my name on Mars. But what I wished was that I could live long enough to go there and check for myself. That would make my day (life)!!!
-João Miguel Matos, Portugal
My interest in Mars dates back to the close oppositions of 1954 and 1956, when I was 8 and 10. My father took me out at night, past my Bedtime, to look, and I was awed. I started reading everything I could about space. I remember reading Willy Ley’s classic The Conquest of Space, and absorbing Chestley Bonestell’s out of this world paintings. We moved shortly after to Los Angeles, and were treated many nights to a sound and light show from Rocketdyne testing engines in the Santa Susana Mtns, or to rockets launched from Vandenburg streaking above the sunset.
Once I graduated, and got my first computer, I have followed each new Mars probe closely, usually on a weekly basis. I would have joined Planetary Society as a kid, if I had known about it, but it was years later when that happened. Since joining, I have felt very connected to our space efforts, and I have supported many of our programs. I only regret that space has never received the urgency that our military has, or we would already be on Mars. If Planetary Society hadn’t been advocating, I doubt we’d be even as far as we are.
Pathfinder means the living proof that it is possible to reach and settle on Mars.
The Planetary Society and its Planetary Report have allowed me to discover and enjoy the silent realities of other worlds and their attractive beauties.
Mars represents for me, the closest habitable option to build, available to humanity, in case we have to leave our planet.
-Jose D. Nunez, Chile
I've been a Charter Member since December 1979 for one reason which is why I'm still here today. Path Finder records the dreams and desires of our species via The Planetary Society and our actions in space exploration.
I love exploring and space is a great environment to go exploring in. What makes space so exciting is that it contains infinite unknowns and it always will. Our species future and existence will depend on colonization of other planets and bodies. This we will do eventually. The more people we involve in this adventure, the sooner we will become a multi-body species.
All the best to us!
-Bob Ware, USA
As a kid, I read avidly the "Man will conquer space SOON" articles in Collier's magazine. I followed Willy Ley's column in Galaxy magazine. I visited Mount Wilson and Palomar Mountain, and joined at least two amateur astronomy societies. I built my own telescope. I listened to and watched "Space Patrol" until Cadet Happy died from brain surgery. I observed comets Arend-Roland and Mrkos in the late '50's. I joined the Planetary Society in the early 90's. There is nothing about space and space exploration I do not find exciting, worthy of reading about, worthy of following.
But I seldom jump up and down about it. I don't stand on streetcorners with a sandwich sign and tout the miracles that NASA and the Society have accomplished since Sputnik was first launched. The miraculous we accomplish daily; faster-than-light takes a little longer. Teleportation may be next; I don't know. What I am trying to say is that so many of our childhood dreams, our expectations, have come to fruition, have been fulfilled, that I no longer need to dream about, and wish for, these things to happen; I can open the newspaper, and if nothing too egregious is happening in Ukraine, and there is no impending election, I can count on there being some really good news about something to do with space exploration, or a new discovery that was only science-fiction yesterday.
I'll probably never live on the moon. I'm too old, and my wife likes our house in Costa Mesa too much, and there's no way I'd ever go there without her. But I know it's coming. It is one of the major reasons I have for wanting to live longer. I hope to at least read a newspaper article about kids flying in the main air tank in Luna City (Heinlein). Soon we will have pictures of exoplanets that are not artists' conceptions, and I'd like to see them. Maybe we'll see a new Physics roll out.
But I am surely thankful for the Planetary Society, its grants, its activity in Washington, its newsletters, its emails, and its dedicated staff. It is a level of laid-back gung-ho that puts other organizations to shame. Thanks, Lou. Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, Emily. Thanks, Kate. And thanks to all whose names do not come immediately to my mind. Next to all you people do, the fact that my name's on Mars is trivial.
On July 4th 1997 I, along with my brother and my 4 years old niece, went to see the Pathfinder's landing live. I think it was at JPL in Pasadena. We, along with many others, were waiting for a long time all the while looking at the big screen in front of us. My niece was getting impatient and wanted to go home. But, first came the black and white images and they were great. My niece became interested as I started explaining to her the pictures she was seeing. Then, came the color images and the crowd went wild. We all started to clap and scream from excitement. I have never seen color images of Mars, except the ones in the books from the Viking landers. These color images were only 20 minutes old and that's why they were special. Even my niece started jumping up and down. It was a great experience for all of us and I will never forget that day.
The Pathfinder was truly a trail blazer and I hope there is more exploration of Mars that will lead to an international team of astronauts landing there, hopefully in my lifetime.
Space exploration not only will help to secure the future for our species, but it will help to foster international cooperation and peace here on earth.
Onward to the stars!
I worked on Pathfinder for 4-1/2 years designing the first solar arrays on Mars (one for the lander and one for the Sojourner Rover). The back of one of the three lander solar array panels contails my handwritten name along with those of all of the people who assembled the panel at Applied Solar. These were gallium arsenide cell arrays. Probably the first gallium arsenide arrays for NASA were on the MSTI satellite made for the Air Force. Noboby remembers MSTI but it was part of the SDI effort and was designed, built and delivered in 7 months by JPL. Normal space solar array delivery is usually 3 years and no one thought JPL could do it in nine months - but we did and delivered early.
I remember that picture well! Compared to today, the only pictures of the surface of Mars had been taken by the Viking Landers over 20 years earlier. To cover the event the BBC in collaboration with the Open University had a live broadcast Saturday morning that covered all things Mars while we waited for the first picture to be released. Patrick Moore was in the studio and no one had done more to promote astronomy on British television than him. Colin Pillinger of the Open University did a special feature on Martian geology. The man who would lead the Beagle 2 team years later.
When that first picture came in, a new picture! I remember thinking, 'There's the Rover and a hill!'. We hadn't seen topography like that before. Patrick was very excited. I don't think we had the Internet in our house at that point, so I did the next best thing and recorded the broadcast on video tape to watch again later. I don't think the video tape survived, sadly.
-Peter Cresswell, Great Britain
I joined the Planetary Society in 1984, why? because I have always had a fascination with space since Star Trek in 1966, when I discovered the Society I knew I had found a place that could scratch that itch to know what was happening in space and you have done that for a long time now, keep up the good work!
Pathfinder and all the Mars missions that followed it have been breathtaking scientific and engineering masterpieces. They were made possible by exceptionally talented teams who devoted decades of their lives to achieving a singular goal. I envy the extraordinary sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that these people must have experienced.
It’s been an honor to be a Planetary Society Member since the Carl Sagan era, watching the history of space exploration unfold. As for the future …. it’s an entirely romantic notion, but I hope to live long enough to witness the first human footprints on Mars.
-Eugene Lowenthal, USA
I was at the Mars rover tests in Death Valley which were a prelude to Pathfinder. I remember watching as Pathfinder’s Sojourner ventured on the Martian surface and feeling a unique connection to the mission and events taking place. My greatest desires for Mars exploration are the search for past or present Martian biology and determining how a Human presence can eventually be established. The Planetary Society has enabled a connection by ordinary citizens to the wonders of space exploration. Thank you for all that you do!
-Lew Levy, USA
It is nice to be a part of a group that is finding things that I, as a child, was told did not exist or could not be done. I have believed in other planetary systems and visiting other worlds since elementary school. To know that I am a member of a diverse international group of fellow believers makes the long wait that much more exciting. To think that at some time in the near future human explorers will see my name, along with all the others, already on the surface of Mars is rather humbling.
-John Reynolds, USA
Mars Pathfinder was the first flight project I worked on, so it holds a special place in my heart. I was the Investigation Scientist at JPL for the Imager for Mars Pathfinder experiment, so I wrote the command sequence that acquired the panorama below (and others). I remember asking Rob Manning, the Entry, Descent and Landing lead, what he thought the chances of successful landing were the day before the July 4th landing. He said “about 50-50,” which was not as good as I was hoping. As you might expect, I didn’t get much sleep that night and ended up working 24 hours straight the next day, powered by the excitement of the successful landing. The Mars Pathfinder project was special because it was a small team with both scientists and engineers working closely together to get the job done. The success of the mission, including the Sojourner rover, led to JPL’s proposal to develop the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), and to my involvement in those and subsequent Mars rover missions. Today I’m working tactical uplink operations on the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance—still exciting after all these years!
-Ken Herkenhoff, USA
I believe that Pathfinder was the first time my name was sent off-planet, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I strongly believe that humanity needs to colonize Mars, but having read my Kim Stanley Robinson, I know that will be a long process. But it will take even longer if we don’t start soon, and for unexplored territory, a Pathfinder is needed.
-Peter Perrone, USA
What Pathfinder means to me:
I was proud of the groundbreaking work, Mars ground mind you, that Pathfinder did. But I also had a trivial moment of pride in that I am a Junior, so my father's name, as well as my name, has been on Mars with Pathfinder!
Why I've been with The Planetary Society all this time:
I signed up very early in TPS's life. I welcomed the opportunity to contribute, even in a small way, to a program that wanted no lapses in the exploration of our solar system, nor in the development of space-faring instruments and vehicles. The benefit of reading about results reported by TPS, and in seeing amazing (!!!) images of places visited, brings excitement to my life.
What I am looking forward to in the future of Mars exploration:
I follow the Perseverance Mars Rover and Ingenuity Helicopter activities diligently. I am especially interested in the results when the SHERLOC instrument is used. My son played a small part in the development and construction of this instrument, and I would love to see it discover evidence of past life on Mars.
-Donald James Eshelman, Jr., USA
25 years ago my family and I were all very excited to see Pathfinder make it to Mars, bound across the surface with its airbags deployed, and amazingly come to rest, upright, intact, and raring to go! As the Sojourner rover successfully embarked and negotiated the alien terrain, we had a sense that this was the harbinger of great things to come. Subsequent rovers Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance, not to mention the Zhurong from China, have gathered tremendous amounts of data, photos, temperature and wind measurements, sampled the soil, and even sent us the sounds of Mars. It has been an encouraging and steady (albeit a little too slow for impatient me,) progression.
I’m now 66 years of age. I clearly remember watching the Apollo moon landings, filled with awe. We universally expected a fully operational Mars base by the mid-1980s. But without Soviet competition, and with the terrific costs of Viet Nam and Apollo and the Cold War and the Great Society weighing on the Federal budget, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Thankfully the Planetary Society, and visionaries Carl Sagan, Lou Friedman and Bruce Murray, facilitated mere mortal citizen advocates like me to encourage the US government and NASA, to keep up its efforts. That brings us to where we are today, with multiple Mars and Venus missions, Europa Clipper, NEO Surveyor, Lucy, Psyche, Artemis, and other exciting missions planned or under way. TPS has kept me as an enthusiastic member for all of these years, because they engage NASA and the US government to stretch and keep on exploring, learning, and divining our local cosmos. And they let me add my voice to this important and vital work.
Today my expectation is that humans will arrive on Mars around 2036, when I am around 80. I’ll be just as excited then as in 1969 with Apollo, and 1997 with Pathfinder. Maybe those astronauts will pull that DVD off Pathfinder and send us all a list of participants - a somewhat delayed “You’ve got mail!” It’ll be worth the wait!
-David Moss, USA
Being a high school Astronomy/Geology teacher, I have always been intrigued by the geology of our solar system. The Pathfinder mission taking us back to Mars was so important to our future exploration, and important to planetary-geography taught in my class, though not all my students understood it at the time. I am a charter member of The Planetary Society, and to have the lander named after the man who was responsible for so much of the revitalized interest in the Cosmos, as well as the founder of the Society, made it all the more special to me, my students, and my family. Interestingly enough, my youngest son went into Astro-Engineering and is now working for NASA as a member of the MRO, something that probably wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for that Pathfinder mission 25 years ago. I am proud to have been a part of that history, and proud that I am still involved through another generation of interplanetary explorers.
The Pathfinder landing was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. In addition to attending Planetfest '97, I participated in the JPL teacher workshop. We got to tour JPL and talk to mission scientists and engineers. Matt Golombek spoke to us at Caltech the night before the landing! JPL wined and dined us and gave us each the Pathfinder Hot Wheels. I still have mine. Planetfest was great too. I got to see more NASA and JPL engineers and scientists like Rob Manning. I met some of my favorite science fiction authors including the Killer Bs, Brin, Benford, and Bear. I heard from astronauts like Sally Ride and Story Musgrave. Tom Bopp signed my photo of comet Hale-Bopp. It was very exciting to experience the landing in the Pasadena Convention Hall with hundreds of other space enthusiasts. I proudly displayed the Planetfest '97 poster in my classroom for 20+ years. Sadly, I outgrew my t-shirt. I have gone to several other Planetfests but '97 will be hard to beat!
-Dan Burns, USA
I was about 10 years old when I read the first book concerning rockets, and the conclusion that to escape earth's gravity one would need a multistage rocket. And so, my whole life I have been fascinated by the structure of the universe, and this interest was greatly augmented by membership in The Planetary Society. I am now 92 years old and I tell people that I plan to live until the first man lands on Mars! And if they want to test seniors in space, I will volunteer for the first crew, because they won't have to send me back!
You can imagine that at my age there are two predominant thoughts going through my head. First, of course, is the realization that when I pass away I will never see my friends or family again. But the second thought is much more positive. I believe that at last I will find out what it is all about! Our efforts to go to the moon, and the struggle to get to the first nearby planet is a monumental step in the effort to explore the universe. And yet it is a mere grain of sand in the enormity of the desert. The classic questions such as, where is the end of the material universe; what happened before the big bang; and there must be life somewhere on habitable planets among the billions of stars which are in the millions of galaxies.
And if I find out, I will get a message back to The Planetary Society!
-Richard Bosshardt, USA
In 1963, working to help pay my way to college, I helped built the NASA Clear Lake site (Houston) as a rod man on a survey crew - sidewalks, streets and the famed 'duck ponds' - in 1965 as a result of good grades as I finished a BS degree in mathematics w a minor in computer science at Texas A&M, I was selected for a summer job at the very site I helped build - in Building 30 ... 'Mission Control' the west wing and offices the east wing - working in the Mathematical Physics Branch (MPB) of the Mission Planning and Analysis Division (MPAD) ... two years later as I finished an M S degree in mathematics w a minor in computer science I was offered a full time job w NASA at the same familiar site - again w MPB within the MPAD and with the very same talented and wonderful people - Jim McPherson, Emil Schiesser and Bill Wollenhaupt among them - the latter two mainly responsible for developing the Lunar Gravity model that allowed for precise targeting for the landing of the manned Lunar Module - I have been highly interested in all things beyond Earth since then - even after leaving NASA.
Given what little science I know about astrophysics from reading on my own (and looking at APOD daily, for fun and learning) I seriously doubt humans will ever leave their solar system - robotics yes - we are already on our way - but people - no --- distances are too vast and human lifetimes too short - even generations of same --- and I doubt we will ever 'walk' on another planet other than Mars - Mercury and Venus are too difficult and the others much too far - thus Mars becomes a lone possibility and very important - but when we do walk on Mars, it will not be for colonization - whatever dreams we may have of such - it will be for visits ...to study and learn --- learn to not let Earth become and another "Mars" - barren and more likely than not, barren of life - certainly sentient life ... as I tell my wonderful wife, only two things are forever - the constantly changing Universe, and true love ...
-Herbert A Perkins MD
Growing up back in the 1960’s I was fascinated by our country’s space program, the Apollo moon landings and the wonders revealed by our first interplanetary missions. I remember standing outside at night waiting to see the Telstar satellite pass overhead. For my science project in 9th grade I made a model of an early Vanguard satellite. I had planned to major in aerospace engineering in college, but switched to computer science after I took my first programming course my sophomore year in college (punch cards back then).
My first job out of college in 1970 was with McDonnell Douglas Astronautics where the Skylab was built. I joined The Planetary Society immediately after I learned about it (member number 1691), and have been a member ever since. In the late 1970’s I tried to land a job at Ames Research in the Bay Area, but that never came to pass. I met Carl Sagan when he made a brief visit to my home town in the early 1980’s.
While I never returned to the space industry on a professional basis, I’ve continued my interest in space travel, especially the robotic missions to the outer planets like Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons. I was so proud that my name was among those sent on Pathfinder to Mars, and I’m glad I’ve been able to continue to participate in the space program through TPS.
I feel the only way for us to truly understand our place in the universe is to go there.
-Kenneth Barker, USA
Back in 1952 as a 12 year old I read up on astronomy and articles in Collier's on space travel by Willy Lay, von Braun, and others. I said one day we will travel in space and got "ya right!" and was laughed at. Now every time we land on Mars, probe an asteroid or find new knowledge I smile and know I get both pleasure and the last laugh. Learning and expanding your horizons is a real pleasure.Thanks to The Planetary Society my name has been all over the solar system, even if I haven't and I am smiling as I travel.
-John Dunnewind, USA
A famous person in the past said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” In the last 25 years there have been many steps, and during that time I haven’t thought much about the first step. I eagerly look forward to the next steps that are a part of the journey. I feel somewhat honored that my name is associated with one of the first steps and still on Mars, but that was the past and perhaps sometime a monument will be built to house the lander, preserving our names for others to see. But, otherwise…
I am now, and have been, a member of several space advocacy groups. My goal as a member of each is the same: move copies of this extremely valuable human genome to as many other places as possible in order to minimize its total loss from any given catastrophe. It is almost a religion with me. Being an old “geezer,” I doubt if I will live to see that first step.
I was intimately connected with space while in the USAF. I have worked in and around the space effort since I was old enough to use my social security number on an application to work. I am retired now and no longer involved in the space effort, but the internet and various advocacy news sources keep me generally informed of current activities in the space exploration, colonization, and propulsion research fields.
-Robert L Campbell, USA
I have been a member of the Planetary Society for so many years I don't remember when I joined but it was a long time ago. I am 87 and still excited to get the magazine; it has carried me beyond the limits of our Earth and onto strange worlds we only see as stars twinkling in the night. I have followed every exciting new discovery those wonderful little machines have made on Mars, enjoyed every beautiful photograph, and wondered at the ingenious crafts hurtling through our solar system on their lonely journey into the universe beyond. The Society has helped me to write a young adult novel about Mars with some semblance (I hope) of accuracy, and best of all, helped me to find my place in this magnificent universe we call home.
Thank you Planetary Society, for feeding my brain with so many delights. May you live long and prosper.
In 1997, I was working on a mobile-robot project of my own, albeit a much more mundane one than anything at JPL: floor cleaning. I left the project in 1999 and rejoined it in 2004, working in an office in my home just outside Indianapolis. Throughout my time in that office, I had on my wall a poster from the Planetary Society, of the Mars Pathfinder Panorama, very near my desk.
On the wall just above the poster, I had placed a print of Carl Sagan’s quote, “How lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history when we are, in fact, visiting other worlds.”
By that time, Spirit and Opportunity were roving Mars as well, but I had, through the poster on my wall, a special place in my heart for Pathfinder, and a powerful reminder that even as I sat in my office, working on motion-control and navigation software for my earthbound robot, Pathfinder and other electromechanical pioneers were out there on another planet, exploring on our behalf, blazing a trail that human feet would some day surely retrace.
I find this prospect thrilling - especially that it may happen some time yet in my lifetime.
In this world and especially in this time, when worldly problems and stresses abound, and we seem no closer to uniting as a species than we were when Pathfinder was first conceived, directing our eyes upwards to the stars, and especially to our planetary neighbors, seems more important than ever. We must continue to lift the level of awareness of science, and especially space and planetary science, among the population, and especially among the younger generation.
I consider myself fortunate to be associated in any way with an organization with such a lofty and important mission. Sagan, Murray, and Friedman gave the World something it would not have any other way: an ongoing Spirit of Curiosity, and a desire to continue to seek out every Opportunity to Find Paths to our future in the Heavens.
I look forward to the unifying societal impact that the first person walking on Mars will have. I look forward to seeing images of the first person to float among the asteroids and the outer planets. I look forward to the widening of our perspective, and the discovery of beneficial resources and brand new, surprising, positive reasons to keep pressing forward as a civilization.
I absolutely love the idea of my name being on Mars and for the past 25 years have mentioned this fact with great pride. Being a member of the Planetary Society and sharing The Planetary Report with many friends and family is important for me and I will continue to do so. Our combined efforts with other world nations to reach Mars is a must if we're going to expand our civilization into the cosmos and the recent situation in the Ukraine is absolutely heartbreaking as we've lost a terrific partner in this endeavor, Russia. Hopefully this will rectify itself but in the meantime I add my hopes and dreams with so many others as we move forward in our travel to the stars.
Time seems to have been gone by at warp speed and my first thought upon being reminded that it’s been 25 years since my name has been on Pathfinder was that the interest in Mars has exploded over those 25 years and I have no doubt ( God willing ) that we will see a human presence on Mars in my lifetime. And that is a good thing---or---is it?
I have been a member of TPS since 1992 and I cannot help but reflect that I joined right around the time that the first exoplanet was discovered. Prior to that, the only star that we knew for sure hosted a solar system was our own sun. The only other planets that we knew were our own cosmic neighbourhours and of course, Mars, the famous Red Planet, was our next door neighbour and fueled our imagination and dreams of finding life elsewhere. Of course, we now know that our star is only one of billions that host solar systems and planets capable of hosting life. I often enjoy the looks on the faces of young people who weren’t even born when I joined the Society and I tell them that there was a time when our own solar system was all that we knew. Of course, most of us who knew even a little bit about astronomy and the unfathomable vastness of the Universe knew that there had to be more out there but this generation of young people have had the fortune of growing up in a world where we have always known of the existence of exoplanets. How strange and archaic it must seem to them and reminds me that I am as old as dirt as the expression goes..lol.
And as fascinating and compelling as all those strange new worlds are, we do not ( as of yet ) have the technology to travel there, although that could change someday as well, although probably not in my lifetime. Therefore, Mars continues its hold on us and remains our most accessible cosmic destination , even a future colony of earth, if visionaries like Elon Musk have his way. It seems that everyone is on their way to Mars and with over 40 missions of probes, orbiters, landers and rovers on their way to the Red Planet, representing different countries and now private individuals and space companies, now is a good time to start asking ourselves some serious questions. Yes—we can get there but just because we can doesn’t mean that we should. What is it we are hoping to achieve? And how will we respect whatever life ( and recognizing that life is a
broad term ) exists there already? And who “owns” Mars? With so many competing interests, I worry that it is starting to feel like the Wild West up there. We need to start looking at the ethics of going to and possible colonizing Mars ( as Musk hopes to do ) and I would love to see the Planetary Society take a serious look at this topic in upcoming articles and presentations.
We are almost there and it is so important that we get it right. The Planetary Society should be taking the lead on this or at least starting to get the conversation going. For example, what kind of law will apply to Mars once a human presence is established? Is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 still applicable? What about environmental standards for the planet itself? Does the planet itself have rights? What about first contact protocols should that becomes necessary and who speaks for Earth? Not only will we have private companies with their own particular interests and agenda but we will be dealing with countries that are not particularly friendly to each other and also have different ideologies. My worst fear is that we will take what divides us here on Earth to Mars.
Let’s start the conversation . It is our community of space enthusiasts who should be taking the lead on this.
Pathfinder, Artemis, and any other project all mean the same thing to me, looking outside of and beyond ourselves. I have watched "The Martian" most times it is on and always get a kick out of the use of Pathfinder in it. I have been with the Planetary Society for over 25 years because of space being one of our final frontiers and the fact that I am a Trekie too. I believe that NGOs are important groups in our communities and can help guide larger policy issues that matter and make a difference to a community or society. We have much more in common with each other than we do differences, the greatest being that we are on this big blue marble floating through space with really nowhere else to go at the moment. I believe that continued space exploration will add value to our daily lives as well as to our own existence and understanding of ourselves. I look forward to seeing the Artemis Project get us one step closer to more exploration of the solar system and eventually Mars.
-Bart McGraw, USA
I am fascinated by everything that has to do with space, and I think that a membership in Planetary Society is an excellent way of being updated on what is going on in scientific research of the cosmos. I am proud of the thought that my name together with thousands others is on Mars and maybe will be found by some explorers some time in the future! I hope it will not be too many years before man from our planet will visit Mars!
-Vigdis Jorstad Nilsen, Norway
Indeed, my name may have been on Mars for 25 years (!) but WHY?
The reason is not only my strong interest in Mars, lunar, and space exploration, but also to the excellent job The Planetary Society does for all these years and up to now.
May I say that Pathfinder robot made a pioneering exploration, and so do the other robots that followed, backed by NASA’s pioneering scientists and also other fine scientists in close collaboration with them.
I am looking forward with great interest to read further news and updates at the Planetary Report, of which I keep and maintain all issues for the last 10 years.
-Manos Paradissis, Greece
I have a number of especially fond memories related to NASA’s pioneering Pathfinder mission to Mars, and they involve the Planetary Society in several ways.
Back in early 1990s I was a young entrepreneur working out of my apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area with just three employees. We were developing and selling products using an interesting new form of highly processed nickel-titanium alloy that we dubbed “Muscle Wires.” Looking like thin black threads, when given an electric current they shortened in length and generated a small but useful force.
An article in The Planetary Report (“Through the Fuzzy Boundary: A New Route to the Moon” May/June 1992) shared the story of astrophysicist Ed Belbruno who’d found a new category of spacecraft trajectory that could deliver more mass to the Moon or planets with a given rocket, or alternately, use a much smaller rocket to deliver the same mass. Eager to find space applications for our novel Muscle Wires, I contacted Belbruno and began a dialogue.
Ed mentioned that he was putting together a conference in New York City about sending very small and lightweight satellites on mission to other star systems (“Practical Robotic Interstellar Flight: Are We Ready?” August 1994, co-sponsored by New York University, the United Nations, and the Planetary Society), and Ed suggested that I should attend. To justify the trip as a business expense, I asked if I could give a talk, and he generously included me in the lineup (in retrospect, a huge honor given the amazing roster of other speakers he had gathered).
My presentation surveyed all known methods of converting electricity into motion (eleven at the time), and included several working Muscle Wires devices to show off their high strength-to-weight ratio, and low voltage needs. After my talk I was approached by NASA scientist Geoffrey Landis from the Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center, who said he thought he might have an application in mind.
To shorten a much longer story, NASA purchased some of our unique wires, Geoff got his device built, Mars-qualified and approved for space travel, and it flew aboard the Pathfinder’s Sojourner Rover as part of the tiny Material Adhesion Experiment which successfully measured the buildup of dust on the top surface of the little rover.
The short piece of Muscle Wire performed exactly as required on the cold martian surface, and I’ve long wondered about how it has aged over the years. (I have other Earth-bound devices from that time which still operate perfectly.) Perhaps, if things work out, I can retire on Mars someday and visit the Pathfinder site to see how it is doing.
Of all my excellent adventures and memories from those days, seeing a tiny piece of our wire (which all of us in the office had touched before shipping to NASA) working on the surface of another planet, certainly qualifies as one of the peaks!
-Roger G. Gilbertson, USA