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13. Space 2069


Another book I recently read is Space 2069. In it, author David Whitehouse documents various space missions and the probes used throughout the decades; from the pre-Luna era, some about the Luna missions themselves, Rovers on Mars, and beyond (in both sense of space and time).

This caused me to recall what I consider to be memorable missions to me; I remember when the space station Mir was brought out of orbit, I have particular fondness for certain Mars landers, and probes we've sent to other rocks in space. While I find all of this to quite awesome, the book also made it apparent to me just how much money we've spent (or arguably, wasted) on these things, all in the name of science, with priorities shifting with each change of elected governments.

With that being said, I list here some of those memorable probes.


Above: A photo of the Sojourner Rover on Mars.

Mars Pathfinder landed in 1997 with the Sojourner rover (above). I was only a teenager at the time. The landing was done using airbags and I remember the initial issue with one of those airbags failing to deflate. This was overcome and then mission there continued on for just shy of three months and the rover traversed some 100-odd meters. This all seemed to be impressive stuff to me at the time, and I don't doubt this now, but even with a mission objective of being less expensive than the earlier Viking missions, this one still came in at over $150 million.

The airbag issues wasn't the only problem. The lander's computer had to be reset four times during the first two weeks of its escapades due to a software bug before being patched; part of the excitement I find from space missions is these clever fixes that have to be implemented, especially considering when they're done remotely with a time lag.


Pathfinder and Sojourner as portrayed
in the movie The Martian.

Next up, I remember the Cassini probe, which flew by Jupiter in the year 2000. The previous year, 1999 featured a solar eclipse that was visible from the UK; and while my location wasn't best suited (in addition to there being cloud), I looked out for it in our back garden. It was during this time that I had a particular interest in astronomy.

The Cassini-Huygens space-research mission was to send the probe to study the Saturn and its system, rings, and moons. It was named after Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712) and Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who, while being classed today as astronomers, were also astrologers. The Huygens part was a lander which landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Cassini was active in space for almost 20 years. The voyage to Saturn included two flybys of Venus, a flyby of Earth, and a flyby of asteroid 2685 Masursky.

The Dragonfly mission is launch in 2027 (arriving in 2034) with a large nuclear-fuelled drone to fly in the atmosphere of Titan.


The Cassini-Huygens assembly; this picture with the people next to it provide a perspective on the size of this thing.

I developed quite a fondness for Mir, I'm not sure why. My ears pricked up with any news to do with the Russian space station. I thought it was quite a shame when the deorbit was planned and I still have a recording of the news of that event.

It is hard for me to comprehend that the International Space Station is set to face a similar fate and that end-date is fast approaching; this has been extended to 2030. The mind boggles further when one considers the ISS to be "the most expensive single item ever constructed [and] as of 2010 the total cost was $150 billion." (Wikipedia)