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About "Sojourner"

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Sojourner: An Insider's View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission

When images of the Sojourner rover rolling onto the surface of Mars flashed across 120 million miles of space on July 5, 1997, the world was watching. But only a handful of insiders knew the real story of the mission that started two decades earlier with a few unknown engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. These JPL engineers began developing key technologies in their garages or after-hours, at a time when there was no funding for such research.

Sojourner: An Insider's View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission, chronicles the story of Sojourner by incorporating history, personalities and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, spanning from early robotic prototypes to the rover's 83 days exploring Mars.

As a member of the Sojourner team, I was first a system engineer, then the lead engineer for rover operations. In addition to my own experience, the book weaves together interviews with more than twenty members of the team about Sojourner’s mission and their own road to Mars.

Pathfinder, and the independent development of Sojourner, officially began in 1992. It's tempting to imagine that the success of Pathfinder and Sojourner were inevitable. It's easy to conjure up a picture of a dedicated team of engineers brought together at that time, working steadily to create a successful mission 5 years later. All it takes is a competent team and a leader with vision, right?

When I explored the story, I found it to be more complicated, and to go back decades. There was no inevitability to the outcome. All along the way, the path depended on individuals and their choices, people who were innovative, and people who wanted something and pursued it.

I sometimes call the development of Sojourner "The Road to Mars." But for those of us involved, we couldn't tell quite where we were going, or even that we were on a road, until we had gotten to the end and could stop and look back.

I was inspired to write the story of Sojourner by the realization that the success of the rover was not the result of one or two leaders' efforts, but was in fact due to the work of the many, mostly unsung, members of the rover team, each solving problems that might otherwise have doomed the mission. I have tried to provide a small sense of just how many distinct individual contributions were necessary to make Sojourner possible.