A Planetary Society Retrospective

How do you high touchdown people on the Moon? For NASA, the reply was planetary exploration. Spacecraft constructed by the company’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California crammed the 1970s with planetary firsts: Mariner 9 orbited Mars, Mariner 10 flew previous Mercury, Pioneer 10 visited Jupiter, and Pioneer 11 made it to Saturn. The Viking probes carried out the primary Mars touchdown in 1976, and a 12 months later, the twin Voyager probes launched into a grand tour of the photo voltaic system. Things appeared much less rosy on the finish of the last decade. The high-dollar Viking and Voyager packages got here at a price, stifling the event of smaller missions. Meanwhile, the fledgling Space Shuttle program was not on time, over funds, and gobbling up increasingly more of NASA’s funds. Policymakers used a perceived lack of public curiosity in planetary exploration as an excuse to slash budgets additional, and at one level within the early 1980s, NASA severely thought-about divesting itself from JPL altogether. Bruce Murray, a California Institute of Technology planetary scientist who had performed key roles in lots of NASA planetary exploration firsts, took command of JPL in 1976. Murray was alarmed on the scenario, as was Carl Sagan, a Cornell University astronomer who was making a reputation for himself as a public science communicator. Murray and Sagan needed to construct a grassroots advocacy group to show there was public help for planetary exploration. They recognized Louis Friedman, a JPL engineer who was ending a 1-year fellowship in Washington, D.C. studying the internal workings of Congress, because the potential organizer of such a company. On 30 November 1979, Murray, Sagan, and Friedman fashioned The Planetary Society. According to its formation paperwork, The Planetary Society was based to unfold public consciousness of planetary exploration and the seek for life, share the most recent findings from these efforts, and stimulate the event of recent science and expertise tasks.

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