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Sojourner [Hardcover]

Andrew Mishkin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 2 2003
Andrew Mishkin, a senior systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a leader of NASA's robotic program, brings us this insider's look at the Mars Pathfinder probe that electrified the world's imagination.

One hundred twenty-two million miles away from her controllers, a sophisticated robot smaller than a microwave oven did what had never been done before-explored the rocky, red terrain of Mars. Then, six-wheeled Sojourner beamed spectacular pictures of her one-of-a-kind mission back to Earth. And millions of people were captivated.

Now, with the touch of an expert thriller writer, Sojourner operations team leader Andrew Mishkin tells the inside, human story of the Mars Pathfinder mission's feverish efforts to build a self-guided, offroading robot to explore the surface of the Red Planet. With witty, compelling anecdotes, he describes the clash of temperamental geniuses, the invention of a new work ethic, the turf wars, the chewing-gum solutions to high-tech problems, the controlled chaos behind the strangely beautiful creation of an artificial intelligence-and the exhilaration of inaugurating the next great age of space exploration

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From Publishers Weekly

Millions of viewers watched in fascination in July 1997 as the Mars "rover" Sojourner (named after Sojourner Truth) maneuvered around the Red Planet's surface like an interplanetary dune buggy, sending back pictures of rocks and boulders that were given whimsical names by mission scientists (e.g., Yogi, Scooby-Doo). Mishkin, senior systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the rover was developed, chronicles the years of trial and error to create a vehicle that would be the right size for the Pathfinder lander and could withstand the temperature extremes on the Martian surface while maneuvering around rocks without getting stuck or driving over the edge of an abyss. It takes 40 minutes for a signal to travel from Mars to Earth and back, so JPL scientists had to make the rover's navigational systems as self-sufficient as possible. The author details how software and hardware teams often clashed over the best ways to solve the problems they encountered during development. Mishkin himself discovered a potentially fatal error shortly before launch: a wrong parameter in the computer clock would have woken Sojourner in the middle of the night instead of in the morning, but the robot needed sunlight to function. Mishkin's detailed history undoubtedly will interest engineers and dedicated science techies, but readers looking for an account of Sojourner's accomplishments on Mars will be disappointed-the rover's 80 days of exploration are given one quick chapter. Nevertheless, Mishkin has written a valuable chronicle of one of NASA's only mission in the past decade to have captured the public's imagination. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sojourner a home run Feb. 19 2005
Format:Paperback
I just finished Andrew Mishkin's booked titled "Sojourner" and I couldn't put it down. Mishkin, a Senior Systems Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), helped to design, build and operate humanity's first operational MARS rover. The book starts back in the 1960's with a General Motors built rover which was meant for, but not flown on, the Lunar Surveyor missions of that decade. He explains how this machine became the basis for several JPL skunk-works created machines including the one that finally did the job in 1997. The book contains just enough technical information (both hardware and software) to be interesting but not so much as to lose the non-technical reader. There are two added chapters which cover the missions in 2001 and 2004.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Resource March 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
Like other books concerning the space program (e.g."Moon Hunters") this book is an interesting historical document concerning some of JPL's remarkable accomplishments. In addition however, the author provides valuable technical insights into the unique thinking, problem solving, and development obstacles which scientists and engineers encounter when exploring remote areas of our world and universe. From a project management perspective, Mishkin has demonstrated how issues over team dynamics, personality, scheduling, and budgets were successfully overcome to attain success beyond all expectations.
I think that this book would make excellent reading for scientists and engineers destined to manage major team oriented projects. This book also should prove of great interest to people working in space science, oceanographic work, or other such fields with similar problems and they will likely find several technical parallels to the mode of thinking that is applied to their own areas.
I would think that JPL would gain much in the way of public interest and support if similar books appear in the future.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read Dec 15 2003
Format:Hardcover
Mishkin takes the reader on the bumpy, rock-strewn path of rover development at JPL and does so in readable terms. Forget acronyms or dry engineering terms here, it's a highly readable account of one of NASA's great achievements of the past decade. The book is full of anecdotes and good writing.
It also shows how the Mars program had too grand a scale with their intial rover program in the early 1990s. They scaled it back and came up with the smaller Pathfinder, or Sojourner (but what everybody just calls "the rover") that was very well executed in 1997.
Now, two more rovers are slated to land on Mars by Jan. 4, 2004. Read this book and the story of how long and interesting that voyage truly is will unfold.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read Dec 15 2003
By S. G Spires - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mishkin takes the reader on the bumpy, rock-strewn path of rover development at JPL and does so in readable terms. Forget acronyms or dry engineering terms here, it's a highly readable account of one of NASA's great achievements of the past decade. The book is full of anecdotes and good writing.
It also shows how the Mars program had too grand a scale with their intial rover program in the early 1990s. They scaled it back and came up with the smaller Pathfinder, or Sojourner (but what everybody just calls "the rover") that was very well executed in 1997.
Now, two more rovers are slated to land on Mars by Jan. 4, 2004. Read this book and the story of how long and interesting that voyage truly is will unfold.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sojourner a home run Feb. 19 2005
By Neil S. Rieck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I just finished Andrew Mishkin's booked titled "Sojourner" and I couldn't put it down. Mishkin, a Senior Systems Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), helped to design, build and operate humanity's first operational MARS rover. The book starts back in the 1960's with a General Motors built rover which was meant for, but not flown on, the Lunar Surveyor missions of that decade. He explains how this machine became the basis for several JPL skunk-works created machines including the one that finally did the job in 1997. The book contains just enough technical information (both hardware and software) to be interesting but not so much as to lose the non-technical reader. There are two added chapters which cover the missions in 2001 and 2004.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Resource March 1 2004
By Frederick Sonnichsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like other books concerning the space program (e.g."Moon Hunters") this book is an interesting historical document concerning some of JPL's remarkable accomplishments. In addition however, the author provides valuable technical insights into the unique thinking, problem solving, and development obstacles which scientists and engineers encounter when exploring remote areas of our world and universe. From a project management perspective, Mishkin has demonstrated how issues over team dynamics, personality, scheduling, and budgets were successfully overcome to attain success beyond all expectations.
I think that this book would make excellent reading for scientists and engineers destined to manage major team oriented projects. This book also should prove of great interest to people working in space science, oceanographic work, or other such fields with similar problems and they will likely find several technical parallels to the mode of thinking that is applied to their own areas.
I would think that JPL would gain much in the way of public interest and support if similar books appear in the future.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inaccuracy and disparaging remarks about key contributors Sept. 23 2004
By David J. Atkinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was also present during the early days of robotics at JPL and witnessed some of the events described by Mishkin. I have worked with Andy Mishkin in the past and share his enthusiasm for our exploratiion of Mars. I must take issue, however, with his characterization of the contributions of Dr. David P. Miller and Dr. Rajiv Desai to the advent of micro-rovers at JPL. I am also saddened by his imperceptive and self-serving observations of their motives and personalities. I agree that the team of which Mishkin was a member were very worried about the micro-rover work being carried out by Miller, Desai, and others. This is because the combined technologies of behavior control and small rovers were demonstrably capable of automatically accomplishing tasks of scientific interest without the computational overhead, mass or system complexity of the "larger" robots being developed in Mishkin's organization. As such, they represented a threat to continued funding of Wilcox and others' work and leadership. Since that time, it appears there are unique mission requirements for both large-scale rovers and micro-rovers in a variety of mission scenarios. The team led by Dr. Miller and Dr. Desai was the only one at JPL (during the period 1987 to 1994) to successfully conceive, research, develop and demonstrate micro-rover systems using reactive behavioral control techniques, and was the first in the world to integrate and demonstrate such systems doing mission-relevant behaviors in a laboratory setting. Small robots in space have been a staple of many science fiction stories. They actually built the technology. Their accomplishments were documented in peer-reviewed conferences and journals, and continue to be highly praised by roboticists, space scientists and NASA. Dr. Miller was viewed by NASA HQ as the agency's expert on micro-rovers, and this was also true of senior managers at JPL. Drs. Miller and Desai were concerned first with the success of Mars exploration and not motivated AT ALL by a need to "take over" robotics being done in Mishkin's organization. They had no shortage of funding and the future looked very bright indeed. I know from personal observation that they tried very hard to work collaboratively with the other group, but were rebuffed and systematically excluded from important meetings, engineering discussions, and overall just treated unprofessionally. Nevertheless, they made heroic efforts to contribute. This came to a head in the major technology demonstration described by Mishkin, where the micro-rover unfortunately failed after just a portion of the demo. I don't know whether a failed piece of electronics was the problem, or software, or operations, or system engineering. I do know that Drs. Miller and Desai tried their very best in a hostile work environment where they were tasked to provide a highly technical, integrated product in absence of full collaboration with the rest of the engineering team. At least, Mishkin acknowledges that the demo, although limited, was enough to capture NASA's favorable attention and led directly to the formation of what would later become the Pathfinder mission. And I am pleased that he acknowledges that Dr. Miller was pivotal in convincing the NASA Mars Science Working Group and the OSSA Solar System Exploration Committee that a micro-rover oriented mission was possible and could return valuable science information. As a final note, Dr. Miller and Dr. Desai each left JPL soon after these event. They were never able to share personally in success of the Sojourner robot which their own work had inspired and enabled. I respect Andrew Mishkin and his many accomplishments at JPL. He just got this part of history wrong, which I attribute not to maliciousness but to the "group-think" of his parent organization and lack of personal knowledge of the actions taken by his managers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book On Robotics June 5 2005
By RdM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In Sojourner, Andrew Mishkin does an excellent job of presenting the success of the Pathfinder mission to Mars, as well as the challenges of getting there. The book gives a brief, but thorough, history of robotics at JPL starting with the lunar rovers and working its way up to the creation of Sojourner and its clone Marie Curie. Mishkin has a talent of presenting technical material in a way that is easy to read and understand, yet provides enough of the technical information to excite and inspire engineers-myself included. Anyone with even the slightest interest in engineering robotics will gain much knowledge from this book!

The book also provides insight into NASA's day-to-day operations during the mission. Explaining difficulties of scheduling shifts on Mars time, dealing with communications issues, and even correcting bugs in the system. Praise to Andrew Mishkin for this piece of history.
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