Monday, September 8, 2014

A Blast From the Past: September 5, 1997 Weekly Reader: Pathfinder/Sojourner on Mars

While rooting through some old junk the other day, I came across a rather interesting historical artifact: a Weekly Reader kid's newspaper from 5th grade that had somehow escaped destruction.

The year was 1997: The front page story: The Pathfinder/Sojourner mission to Mars.

For anyone not familiar with the mission, Pathfinder/Sojourner paved the way for many later missions to Mars, Launched in 1996 and arriving on July 4, 1997, this mission was questionably the most anticipated space mission since Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July, 1969. The first NASA mission to land on Mars since the Vikings, this mission was the first time a mobile vehicle landed on another planet and the first to employ airbags as a method of landing and an automatic obstacle detection/avoidance system. Though it had a designed lifespan of 1 month, Sojourner lasted for over 3 months on Mars, transmitting a wealth of data, surpassing all mission expectations, and serving as the basis for the more advanced Twin Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and Mars Science laboratory (Curiosity) missions.

As another point to ponder, consider this: much of the class of 2015 (starting their senior year in high school as we speak), was born in 1997. For today's high school seniors, consider that, in their lifetimes . . .

Carl Sagan has always been dead, as have been George Burns, Ella Fitzgerald, Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, and Tiny Tim

Cloning has always been science fact

Pokemon has always existed

Computers have always been capable of beating humans at chess

Mad Cow Disease has always been a threat to human health

'Unabomber' Ted Kaczynski has always been in jail

The Keck Telescopes have always been in operation

The Daily Show has always been on the air

Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S. (and the world, depending on the year)

The X Prize Foundation has always existed

The Ramones have always been retired

Steve Jobs' NeXT computer company has never existed

The Big 12 Conference has always existed

The Southern Pacific Railroad has never existed

Fox News has always been on the air

Bosnia and Herzegovnia have always been a single country

There has never been a one term president

The Nintendo 64 has always existed

George Stephanopoulos has never been involved in politics
There have always been parental guidance ratings for TV programs

Prince Charles and Princess Diana have never been married

Interesting stat:
In 1997: Weekly Reader reported that only 46% of schools in America were wired for Internet access. Needless to say, that's hard to believe in 2014, when just about every fast food joint has free wireless internet (wi-fi was in its infancy in 1997).

Failed Prediction:
The article stated that humans may travel to Mars by 2012. As of 2014, the target date for a manned mission is the mid 2030s.

In the News on September 5, 1997 . . . 
The International Olympic Committee selected Athens, Greece to host the 2004 Summer Olympics

Mother Teresa died at age 87

As for Weekly Reader . . .
It ceased production in 2012 (the same year we were supposed to be going to Mars back in 1997) after being bought out by the educational material printing company Scholastic.

Sorry if this makes you feel old, as it does me in a way as this year marks a decade (10 years) since I began my senior year of high school, but it's always fun to look back in time and see where we were X-years back.

Who knows, more time machine posts may be coming in the future . . . 

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