How cheap is NASA's new "better, faster, cheaper" design philosophy? Compare this week's Pathfinder mission with the two Viking missions 21 years ago. Conceived in the heady era of big-budget NASA programs, the Vikings cost nearly $3 billion (measured in 1997 dollars) and were as ambitious and customized as Pathfinder is spare and off the shelf. NASA's old principle of superredundancy is reflected in the fact that there was not one but two Viking spacecraft, the second an exact replica of the first.

Pathfinder owes much to the trail-blazing Vikings, which snapped the high-resolution pictures that enabled Pathfinder scientists to choose...

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