The era NASA called “Faster, Better, Cheaper” started with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory agreeing to land something on Mars – cheaply – and to do it in a radically different way. The documentary film “The Pathfinders” tells the story of how a small group of JPLers rose to the challenge, ignoring warnings that attempting to land a spacecraft on Mars with airbags wouldn’t likely be a career-enhancing move.
Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium in Pasadena will host the documentary’s screening on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at 7 p.m. It is the first of four documentaries about JPL missions to the Red Planet preceding the much-anticipated launch of the Mars 2020 rover next summer.
From a parachute that could not be tested in conditions that would match the Martian atmosphere, to the late addition of an unwanted rover that would not have looked out of place in a toy store, the Mars Pathfinder mission was a doubter’s dream, taken on by a mostly young group of engineers and scientists guided by a grizzled manager known for being a maverick. Capturing hearts and minds around the world with its dramatic landing on July 4, 1997, and its tiny rover – the first wheels ever to roll on Mars – Mars Pathfinder became a cultural icon, as well as a record-breaking phenomenon on the brand-new World Wide Web. “The Pathfinders” retraces the journey of this daring mission to Mars.
Produced, written and directed by JPL Fellow and Emmy Award-winner Blaine Baggett, “The Pathfinders” and three other documentaries about JPL-led missions to Mars will screen at Caltech over the next four months. “Together they make up a quartet that traces the classic story arc of rising, falling and rising again,” said Baggett.
The film screening will be preceded by a short, informal panel discussion with Baggett, Pathfinder mission team members/JPL Fellows Rob Manning and Jennifer Trosper, Caltech professor and former JPL director Ed Stone, and moderator Preston Dyches. Admission is free; online registration is requested, and seating is first come, first served.