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Mars Pathfinder
Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner Mission to Mars

Goals: Mars Pathfinder was designed primarily to demonstrate a low-cost way of delivering a set of science instruments and a free-ranging rover to the surface of the Red Planet. The unique airbag system cushioned the lander in a cocoon after a parachute and rocket descent through the thin Martian atmosphere.

Accomplishments: Mars Pathfinder demonstrated a number of innovative, economical, and highly effective approaches to spacecraft and mission design. The wagon-sized Sojourner rover was the forerunner of more advanced rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Both Spirit and Opportunity used a variation of the airbag system to land on Mars. The Carl Sagan Memorial Station also used an innovative petal design that unfolded after landing, exposing its science instruments and releasing the rover to explore surrounding rocks.

In addition to its engineering accomplishments, Pathfinder made significant contributions to what was known about Mars' geology and meteorology at the time.


Key Dates
4 Dec 1996:  Launch (06:58:07 UT)
4 Jul 1997:  Mars Landing (16:56:55 UT)
5 Jul 1997 - 25 Sep 1997:  Sojourner Rover Operations
27 Sep 1997:  End of Mission (10:23 UT)
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
Mars Pathfinder Facts The rover was named in honor of Sojourner Truth (right), a 19th century abolitionist and champion of women's rights.

The name was suggested by Valerie Ambroise, 12, of Bridgeport, CT. Other suggestions included Sacagawea, Athena and Thumbelina.

Sojourner rover operated for 84 days - 12 times longer than its designed lifetime of seven days.

Among the mission firsts: Pathfinder was the first spacecraft to bounce on another planet and Sojourner was the first wheeled rover to explore another planet. Soviet Lunokhod rovers had previously explored Earth's Moon.

Pathfinder was the second in NASA's Discovery program of low-cost missions with highly-focused science objectives.
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Last Updated: 18 Apr 2012