NASA's Official Alternate History of Mars Exploration

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

Keith's update: NASA loves to use the phrase "Mars is hard" when it comes to missions to Mars - especially when the nail biting begins. How would NASA ever know that it is "hard" unless they experienced hardships along the way - you know, hardships such as mission failures? How are the younger people who are the intended audience for this release going to know about these hardships if NASA will not tell them that they happened along the way?

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 22, 2017 11:33 PM.

Hollywood Space Spinoff Flops was the previous entry in this blog.

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