The Viking program represents a major effort by the United States to explore Mars, with the particular goal of performing experiments on Martian soil to look for possible evidence of life. Four individual spacecraft were sent to Mars as part of the Viking project, two orbiters and two landers, launched as identical orbiter/lander pairs.
My first word was JET, since we lived near an Air Force base and experienced sonic booms on a regular basis. My fascination with the heavens took off from there. Growing up, my family went camping and backpacking a lot, and one of my clearest memories of that time is looking up at a dark, dark sky and pointing out satellites to each other, those little moving points of light that are sometimes so faint I could only see them in my peripheral vision.
Two years ago today, the space shuttle Discovery was launched for the last time. My friend Nicole Gugliucci scored a quartet of tickets for the launch and shared them with me, along with our friends and classmates Joleen Carlberg and Gail Zasowski. Facing an overwhelming load of graduate school work, we decided that a road trip from Virginia to Florida was exactly what we needed.
The Friendship 7 space capsule was designed to orbit the earth and it did just that on February 20, 1962, with John Glenn, Jr. on board. It circled the globe three times before landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Three months later Friendship 7 began its second mission, or what was popularly referred to as its “fourth orbit:” a worldwide exhibition that was organized to promote and represent the United States and its space program in nearly 30 cities around the world.
The National Air and Space Museum was once again honored to host a space shuttle crew this past Friday. This visit was special because it was the STS-135 crew of the shuttle Atlantis, the historic final mission that returned on July 21. The crew was only four astronauts for this last flight, smaller than the normal seven.
Since Howard McCurdy and I co-authored Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), I have been interested in the possible merger of humans and robots into a single entity to undertake space exploration.