Cover

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Title page, Copyright

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Contents

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

I began this work about a year after moving to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from the NASA Langley Research Center, where I had been a contract historian. JPL had not had a staff historian since the mid-1970s, and during 2004, Blaine Baggett, director of the Office of Communication and Education at JPL, and...

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Introduction

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pp. 12-19

Mars has a peculiar hold on the minds of Americans. A vast range of American science fiction posits martian civilizations. Scientific literature of the early twentieth century assumed martian civilizations, too, although as evidence accumulated during the century, native martians were reduced successively from ancient...

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1. Planetary Observers, Mars Observer

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pp. 20-43

The Mars science community is spread across the country, within universities, at NASA centers, and in the U.S. Geological Survey. They are a subdivision of a larger community of planetary scientists that has always had larger dreams than NASA has had funds. The resulting cacophony of demands for missions and...

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2. Politics and Engineering on the Martian Frontier

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pp. 44-72

During Mars Observer’s years of development, the political stage for Mars missions began to change. The most direct reason for this was the slow dawning of recognition in the Reagan administration that space was popular. Despite the firestorm of controversy surrounding his Strategic Defense Initiative, and the tepid...

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3. Attack of the Great Galactic Ghoul

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pp. 73-97

In JPL lore, there is a legendary beast that lurks between the orbits of Earth and Mars. Known as the Great Galactic Ghoul, it is the product of the imagination of an engineer named John Casani who had been lead designer of JPL’s early Mariner planetary spacecraft. One day in 1965, Casani had been doing an interview with...

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4. Engineering for Uncertainty

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pp. 98-125

During their development phases, between 1994 and 1996, both Mars Pathfinder (MPF) and Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) engineering teams confronted a feature of Mars that makes it an especially challenging destination. Mars has much greater variability in its atmospheric density than does Earth. Because both projects...

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5. Mars Mania

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pp. 126-150

On August 7, 1996, three months before Mars Global Surveyor’s launch, NASA’s Space Science Enterprise had held a press conference to announce the discovery of organic material in a rock from Mars. The suspect rock, meteorite ALH84001, had been found in Antarctica in 1984. Studied by a research team headed by David...

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6. The Faster-Better-Cheaper Future

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pp. 151-179

During the year following the exciting Mars Pathfinder landing, JPL’s Mars Exploration Directorate struggled to keep its commitments to NASA. John McNamee’s Mars Surveyor 1998 missions, the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, would only make it to the launch pad on time and on budget by...

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7. Revenge of the Great Galactic Ghoul

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pp. 180-205

If 1997 had been a great year for JPL, 1999 would be a banner year for JPL’s bane, the Great Galactic Ghoul—and an annus horribilis for NASA, in the view of The Economist.¹ In September and December, the Ghoul would dine happily on the Mars Climate Orbiter, Polar Lander, and the Deep Space 2 microprobes. Their...

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8. Recovery and Reform

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pp. 206-231

The loss of Climate Orbiter, Polar Lander, and the Deep Space 2 probes was the worst series of failures JPL had experienced since the 1960s, when its Rangers had suffered six sequential failures. Then, the Lab had been saved by the success of two Mariner missions, to Venus in 1962 and to Mars in 1965. Speaking at the...

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9. Margins on the Final Frontier

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pp. 232-262

When Mark Adler and his team had formulated their Mars Mobile Pathfinder, they had only signed up for a 30-day surface mission for the rover. The short expected lifetime was a product of the bitter martian cold. The rover electronics had to be kept above about −55°C, and the batteries above about −20°C, through...

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10. Sending a Spy Satellite to Mars

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pp. 263-283

The Mars Exploration Rover development occurred in parallel with a second project, the large Mars surveillance orbiter that MER principal investigator Steve Squyres had dubbed “GavSat.” While the concept had lost the direct competition with MER, the idea of a big photographic reconnaissance satellite for Mars had...

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11. Robotic Geologists on the Red Planet

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pp. 284-311

On February 1, 2003, NASA’s space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, with the loss of all seven astronauts aboard. Columbia had been on one of the last scientific missions scheduled for the shuttle program, which by then was almost entirely devoted to completing the International Space Station. As occurred after...

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12. Reengineering a Spacecraft, and a Program

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pp. 312-339

After Barry Goldstein left the Mars Exploration Rover project to take on the effort to refly the Polar Lander mission under the name Mars Phoenix, he and his engineering team first had to address the inadequacies the post-failure reviews had found in the Mars Surveyor 1998 project. There would be a formal review of...

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Conclusion

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pp. 340-351

In February 2012, just after the announcement that the Mars program budget was being slashed again and the joint NASA / European Space Agency ExoMars missions cancelled, NASA administrator Charles Bolden held a town hall meeting at JPL. A former astronaut and Marine Corps general, he insisted that the...

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Epilogue

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pp. 352-355

On August 6, 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory, née Mars Smart Lander, mission placed its rover, now named Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. Its so-called Skycrane landing method (once called “rover on a rope” at JPL) worked flawlessly, placing the rover 2.4 kilometers from its target near Aeolis Mons.¹ Designed and...

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Appendix: NASA Organization and Mars Exploration

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pp. 356-361

For the purposes of Mars exploration, NASA has two distinct, interested communities. In this book, I’ve called them the science program and the human program. Mostly, but not entirely, these align with two entities on NASA’s organization charts. NASA’s human exploration program resided within what was originally known as the...

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Notes

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pp. 362-397

This book starts in the “paper era,” when sources were on paper and microfilm, and ends in the “digital era,” when sources are largely “born digital” (and still microfilm). The consequence is that the kinds and locations of sources—even within JPL’s fence—change dramatically, so the notes in this book are at times complex and confusing...

Bibliography

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pp. 398-403

Index

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pp. 404-417