Mission on Mars

El Vaquero Staff Writer

“The history of the robot is the history of the people who made it,” said Andrew Mishkin, senior systems engineer of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He spoke of the history and the challenges of building the robot Sojourner, the rover, which landed on Mars in 1997, to an audience of about 50 GCC students and faculty on Nov. 20 at Kreider Hall.

Sojourner, the first robotic rover, traveled over approximately 300 million miles through space and landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. Constructed by scientists and engineers, it operated like a remote controlled toy car although it was a little bigger than an average toy vehicle.

It would take 40 minutes for signals to travel from Mars to Earth, said Mishkin, who was one of the leading engineers behind the building of the rover.

With only six wheels and the ability of going over rocks as high as a dining room table, the Sojourner operated for 80 days taking various pictures and sending useful data, such as that about the rocky red surface and finer than sand soil of the planet.

The history of the first rover to ever land on Mars and of the people behind it going back as early as the 1960s, Mishkin discusses with more detail in his newly released book titled, “Sojourner: An Insider’s View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission.”

“He told about the team work behind it, people working together,” said Mike Eberts, mass communications professor.

“I find it [the teamwork] as uplifting as the mission itself,” he said. “I really enjoyed the lecture because it was interesting to hear how they created robots that could be taken into Mars to do simple tasks and help us explore the space,” said Diana Perez, 21, a communications major. “I think that we should have more lectures like this,” she said.

Since the landing of Sojourner, scientists and engineers of NASA have pursued the task of further exploration continuing to improve the capabilities of the rover, making it as self-sufficient as possible.

With a total cost of $800 million and with double the abilities of Sojourner, one of the newest rovers, the Spirit, nicknamed “the robot geologist,” will land on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, followed by its twin, the Opportunity, on Jan. 25.

Their main purpose will be to search for evidence of existence of water on Mars. The two will land on different areas of the planet, providing a better chance of exploring the red planet more thoroughly.