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50 Years of Robotic Planetary Exploration: Suzanne Dodd (Project Manager for the Voyager Interstellar Mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Pathfinder Panorama
An enhanced version of the famous Mars Pathfinder photo of the lander and Sojourner rover. This browse version shows only part of the 360-degree panorama. The high-resolution version includes the whole image.

What do you think are the most significant events that have occurred in the past fifty years of robotic planetary exploration? Why?

"I think our search of knowledge and the
abililty to build machines to acquire this
knowledge is our greatest achievement."
Suzy Dodd

In no particular order I would say:

Mars Pathfinder landing on Mars, July 4, 1997. Pathfinder showed the world that the U.S. was "back in the game" of landing spacecraft on Mars after a 22 year absence (Viking 1 and 2). And we did it on the 4th of July too.

Portrait of the Sojourner Rover.
Portrait of Sojourner.

Pathfinder used innovative air bag technology for the landing, and its rover, Sojourner, was the cute little rover that could -- and it did.

Yogi on Mars
A rock called "Yogi," as imaged by the Sojourner rover on the surface of Mars. To view all the details of the surface in 3D, you will need to use red and blue 3D glasses. To make your own, click here.

Voyager Neptune Encounter, August 1989.

Neptune Clouds
This Voyager 2 high resolution color image, taken two hours before closest approach, provides obvious evidence of vertical relief in Neptune's bright cloud streaks.

This was the furthest planet we had, and still have, ever visited.

Voyager's Neptune
Voyager 2 sent back this stunning image of storms at work in Neptune's windy atmosphere in August 1989.

Neptune is very blue in color and its moon Triton is the coldest body in the solar system.

Triton by Voyager 2
A global color mosaic of Triton taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system.

Once past Neptune, Voyager 2 just kept on going and going and today (34-plus years after launch) it and its twin spacecraft Voyager 1 are very near the heliopause; where the effects of our sun stop and interstellar space starts.

Ranger 7 image of the Moon.
Ranger 7 took this image, the first picture of the Moon by a U.S. spacecraft, about 17 minutes before impacting the lunar surface.

I find the Ranger program to the Moon in the early 1960s significant. It was the early days of space exploration and a time of many quick turnaround launches. Not very many were successful in their goal of hitting the Moon -- It took seven launches to get it right -- but the engineers and the US government never gave up.

Aurora Australis From Space
This image is of Atlantis and its Orbital Boom Sensor System robot arm extension back dropped against Earth's horizon and a greenish phenomenon associated with Aurora Australis. One of the station's solar array panels appears at upper left. Because of the exposure time needed for this type of photography, some of the stars in the background are blurred.

In your field of work, what are some examples of the great achievements and discoveries in planetary science and robotic exploration throughout the past 50 years?

Every time we launch a new mission, whether to another planet, or to look at Earth from above, we learn something about the planet that is new and surprising and causes us to change our models and perceptions. I think our search of knowledge and the abililty to build machines to acquire this knowledge is our greatest achievement.

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Last Updated: 28 August 2013

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Last Updated: 28 Aug 2013