Anniversary of the Mars Pathfinder Landing
Mars Pathfinder was launched on Dec. 4, 1996 at 1:58:07 am EST on a Delta II rocket. After an uneventful journey, the spacecraft safely landed on the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997. The first set of data was received shortly after 5:00 p.m. followed by the release of images at 9:30 p.m. The Sojourner rover, with three Lewis components, then began its Martian trek and returned images and other data over the course of three months. After operating on the surface of Mars three times longer than expected and returning a tremendous amount of new information about the red planet, NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission completed the last successful data transmission cycle from Pathfinder at 6:23 a.m. EDT on Sept. 27, 1997.
A panoramic view of Pathfinder's Ares Vallis landing site reveals traces of a warmer, wetter past, showing a floodplain covered with a variety of rock types, boulders, rounded and semi-rounded cobbles and pebbles. These rocks and pebbles are thought to have been swept down and deposited by floods which occurred early in Mars' evolution in the Ares and Tiu regions near the Pathfinder landing site.
The image, which is a 75-frame, color-enhanced mosaic taken by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder, looks to the southwest toward the Rock Garden, a cluster of large, angular rocks tilted in a downstream direction from the floods. The Pathfinder rover, Sojourner, is shown snuggled against a rock nicknamed Moe. The south peak of two hills, known as Twin Peaks, can be seen on the horizon, about 1 kilometer (6/10ths of a mile) from the lander. The rocky surface is comprised of materials washed down from the highlands and deposited in this ancient outflow channel by a catastrophic flood.
The remarkably successful Mars Pathfinder spacecraft, part of NASA's Discovery program of fast track, low-cost missions with highly focused science objectives, was the first spacecraft to explore Mars in more than 20 years. In all, during its three months of operations, the mission returned about 2.6 gigabits of data, which included more than 16,000 images of the Martian landscape from the lander camera, 550 images from the rover and about 8.5 million temperature, pressure and wind measurements.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: Steve Fox