LPL in 2008
We’re still doing enormous amounts of ground-based astronomy. Arizona is one of the two major centers in the United States for ground-based astronomy, and we’re doing more astronomy from telescopes now than we ever did back in the 1960s and seventies.
But we have additional capabilities that involve going into space. They involve everything from flybys—for example, the flybys of the outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, the so-called Grand Tour, really revealed new worlds out there, the planets themselves and their satellites, that had only been almost literally points of light. We could see what Jupiter and Saturn looked like with telescopes, but you really couldn’t see much about Uranus and Neptune except there were vaguely bluish dots in the sky. And the satellites around them were essentially unknown. We knew the existence of them, but they were points of light. We only knew about a few of the bigger, brighter ones.
We went from there to going into orbit around planetary bodies, starting with the Moon. It sounds terrific, but the early efforts to go to the Moon, we couldn’t even fire a rocket that could hit the Moon. We missed. The Ranger series, as they were called, missed the Moon for a while before we got the guidance systems in. Now I can tell you at a distance way beyond Pluto where a spacecraft is, to a distance within one meter.
After orbiters, the obvious thing was to go land and look around. The first time we did that was on the Moon with the Surveyor spacecraft in the mid-sixties. We’ve since landed on Mars, with the Viking mission, more recently with the Mars Pathfinder where we took the pictures, and hopefully next spring we’ll land on Mars again with the Phoenix mission.
LPL is a place where you’re encouraged to explore and try new things, and all the people here are always at the forefront of new techniques, new activities, new worlds. It’s really an exciting place to be.