Before 1976, the idea of landing a spacecraft on Mars was just that — an idea. That changed on July 20 of that year, when NASA’s Viking 1 touched down on the planet. Viking 2 joined the party less than two months later.
The Viking program successfully expanded humankind’s knowledge of Mars and set the stage for future explorations. Over the next few decades, there have been several more landings, with Perseverance becoming the latest on Feb.18.
There is perhaps no greater example of design thinking than missions to space. Each journey builds on what we’ve learned from previous missions, and scientists and engineers continually make iterative changes to push the boundaries of what’s possible. With the Perseverance mission, the big push forward will be an attempt to fly a helicopter above the surface of Mars.
Mobility is not quite rocket science, but the iterative process of design thinking very much applies to the work we do. We don’t need to shoot for the Moon (or Mars) with every new idea we come up with, but we should constantly strive to frame questions, gather inspiration and test out prototypes — all key components of design thinking.
An interesting question comes out of these Mars landings: Why do we keep going back? There are other parts of the universe to explore, but more than a dozen spacecrafts have made the journey to the Red Planet. Isn’t part of innovative thinking trying new ideas and exploring new places?
Sometimes — but the iterative work of design thinking also often requires us to come back at challenges from new angles. Consider this excerpt about Perseverance from Space.com:
Perseverance is a powerful mission, but the small car-sized rover can only carry so many instruments and so much equipment to Mars. Perseverance thus demonstrates why it's important to keep going back to Mars, because part of its mission design is to set the most promising samples aside. Later in the decade, if planning and funding persist, NASA and the European Space Agency will start an ambitious sample-return mission to finally bring the rocks back to Earth where they can be looked at in advanced, protected facilities on our home planet.
This gets at the core of design thinking being more cyclical than linear. When the work of Perseverance is over, the adventure of another mission will be just beginning. As your organizations and mobility teams tackle new problems big and small, try not to think about the solution(s) in a vacuum. Instead, expand your thinking and consider what new doors will open when a solution is reached.
With hundreds of worlds in the solar system to explore, it's fair to ask as NASA's Perseverance rover makes its final approach for landing Thursday (Feb. 18): Why do we keep going back to Mars?