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28 views • September 23, 2022

JPL and the Space Age: The Breaking Point

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s success in landing the low-cost Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 was viewed as proof that spacecraft could be built more often and for far less money — a radical cultural change NASA termed “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” This era also coincided with the discovery of a Mars rock that hinted at the possibility of microbial life elsewhere in the solar system. NASA’s reaction was to envision a steady stream of missions to Mars — all done at cut-rate costs. In fact, the next challenge taken on by JPL was to fly two missions to Mars for the price of the single Pathfinder mission. Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander both made it to the launch pad, on time and on budget, but were lost upon arrival at Mars, resulting in one of the most difficult periods in the history of JPL. “The Breaking Point” tells the story of the demise of these two missions and the abrupt end of NASA’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper” era. Documentary length: 1 hour 47 minutes
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