Round Peg in a Square Hole

A repository of reference material on a variety of subjects

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Are We, Chopped Liver?!?

O.K., I've worked in this biz for 17 years, and there are some home-truths that are clear and unchangeable:
  1. Mars is sexier than any other planet (Earth included)
  2. Landers are sexier than orbiters
  3. Rovers are sexier than landers
  4. The public and the press have a short memory for success, and an elephantine one for failures.
I admit to all of the above, but it still really frosts my fanny that the MER rovers seem to be the only thing reported on AND are (incorrectly!) given as the only things we're working on or have EVER worked on. It's as if they constitute the entirety of the unmanned US space program.

The most recent episode that got my goat was when I went on Amazon to order a bazillion copies of the new book _Saturn: A New View_ . (I'm giving it to all my friends and family for Christmas, and NOT just because I'm in it OR because a friend of mine is one of the authors, but because it is a SPECTACULAR book with stunning images and great info.) Anyway, Amazon does the old "people who bought this book also viewed/bought these...." and in that list was a book with a subtitle The First Photographer on Mars. Now, unless the author was on the imaging team for Viking, that is flat out WRONG! He is on the MER team, and the pic on the front of the book was from MER, so it looks like yet another instance of the Ares-centric view which appears to be so pervasive.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Martian at heart. All other things being equal, I would rather work on Mars, partly for the reasons listed above, partly because I've always loved Mars. But it galls and frustrates me that all the work we did on Pathfinder just.....vanishes, as if it never existed. Viking, too, is completely ignored, despite an enormous data set that grad students are still plodding through to this day. And, frankly, though the MER rovers and missions were very different from Pathfinder, they would never have gotten off the ground, if Pathfinder had never existed.

Now, I'm not taking anything away from the MER team; they have accomplished incredible things, far longer and better than anyone had any idea of before they launched. And working on Mars, with a small team, is no picnic; you have to choose to work on Mars time, in which case you're time-skewed from the people around you, your family in particular, or you have to decide to limit your activities on Mars to those which can be planned and built only during "reasonable" hours, JPL local time (for suffieciently loose definitions of "reasonable").

Not even really sure where the blame lies, if there is blame to lay. I just feel that there should be SOME coverage of the marvels we're discovering at Saturn and SOME acknowledgement of the historical context in which these missions are designed, built, and run. And, for heaven's sake, get the facts right, will ya?