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Progression of Knowledge
Realtime Flight Operations Lead Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
What do you think are the most significant events that have occurred in the past fifty years of robotic planetary exploration? Why?
Most significant event in the past 50 years? It was the successful creation and launch of the Voyager Mission.
The progression of knowledge through history accelerated when the likes of Tsiolkovsky, Oberth, Hohmann, Goddard, Von Karman, et al, developed the understanding about the key to interplanetary flight being, for the most part, a problem of achieving high velocity, and they mapped out how to do it with real vehicles. Then as the space age dawned, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) learned how to do gravity assist in order to tour the solar system -- and right about then learned that the planets were aligning for a 1977 best-launch opportunity that occurs once every 176 years. The Voyagers were then negotiated, planned, approved, built, tested, launched, and navigated to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity. The Voyagers' enormous scientific successes put JPL securely on the interplanetary map and they continue to push the limits today.