• Introduction
    • Mars Pathfinder


      Mission Website

      Mars Pathfinder

      The Mars Pathfinder mission featured NASA's first rover to explore the surface of the Red Planet. The pioneering mission demonstrated a number of innovative, economical, and highly effective approaches to spacecraft and planetary mission design. In addition to the engineering feat of landing on Mars with protective airbags for the first time, the mission also served as a demonstration of key technologies and concepts for use in future expeditions to Mars.



      Mission Management

      Dr. Matt Golombek
      Dr. Matt Golombek
      Project Scientist

      Mars Pathfinder was built and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.  Dr. Matt Golombek of JPL was the Project Scientist.

  • Science Objectives
    • The primary objective was to demonstrate a low-cost method of delivering a set of science instruments and a free-ranging rover to the surface of Mars. The 23-pound Sojourner rover conducted technology experiments and served as an instrument deployment mechanism.


      The science objectives were to:

      Investigate the Martian atmosphere, surface metrology and geology

      Characterize surface features

      Analyze the elemental composition of rocks and soil at the landing site

      Monitor atmospheric conditions as they varied over the course of the mission with photographic and analytical instruments

      Mars as seen through the eyes of the Sojourner Rover.
      Mars as seen through the eyes of the Sojourner Rover.


      true colors of Mars
      This image was taken near local noon on Sol 10 (the 10th day on Mars) depicting the true colors of Mars.


































  • Details
    • Launched on December 4, 1996, Pathfinder arrived at Mars on July 4, 1997.  Slowed in its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere by a parachute, it was in free-fall the last few hundred feet and bounced over the Martian surface on its inflated airbags like a giant beach ball.  Once it rolled to a stop, the airbags deflated, the petals of the lander opened,
      and the rover descended to begin exploring and analyzing nearby rocks.


      panorama taken by the Pathfinder lander
      Roughly 100 frames were stitched manually to produce this panorama taken by the Pathfinder lander. Click to enlarge


      deployed rover sitting on the Martian surface
      This mosaic from Sol 2 shows the newly deployed rover sitting on the Martian surface..











































  • Results
    • Mars Pathfinder set ambitious objectives and surpassed them.  The lander, formally named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station following its successful touchdown, captured over 16,500 images, while the rover snapped 550 pictures.  The mission performed more than 15 chemical analyses of rocks and soil and returned extensive data on winds and other aspects of weather.  The observations suggest that early Mars may once have been more Earth-like than it is today, with liquid water on its surface and a thicker atmosphere.

      The engineering design far exceeded expectations.  The mission functioned on the Martian surface for about three months, well beyond the planned lifetimes of 30 days for the lander and seven days for the rover, coming to an end on Sept. 27, 1997.

      More detailed mission results can be found in the December 5, 1997 issue of Science and in abstracts presented at the 29th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March 1998. For further information, visit the National Space Science Data Center, NASA's permanent archive for space science mission data.


      150 Martian rocks named
      About 150 Martian rocks were named by the team for easier identification and discussion. Click to enlarge












  • Noteworthy
    • Stamp of Approval
      On December 10, 1997, the U.S. Postal Service paid tribute to NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission with a $3 Priority Mail stamp featuring one of the first images transmitted to Earth.  The Postmaster General said the Pathfinder mission is one of the most significant achievements in the history of America's space program, and that the stamp is a reminder of the unmatched ingenuity that leads the world in space exploration.

      Rover Recognition
      The Mars Pathfinder Sojourner Rover, the first to explore another planet, was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in 2003 for the revolutionary feat it accomplished on the Martian surface.  For the first time, a thinking robot equipped with sophisticated laser eyes and automated programming reacted to unplanned events on the surface of another planet.  A hazard avoidance system set the rover apart from all other machines that previously explored space.  It paved the way for the successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers that have been exploring Mars since 2004 and the next rover, Curiosity, a sophisticated mobile laboratory that will arrive at Mars in 2012.


      Mars Pathfinder postage stamp
      Mars Pathfinder postage stamp


      image of robots for Mars travel
      A duplicate of the amazing little Sojourner rover placed next to its successors. Sojourner was 11" high and weighed 23 pounds.  Spirit and Opportunity stand about 5' tall and weigh in at 400 pounds. It paved the way for the successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers that have been exploring Mars since 2004 and the next rover, Curiosity, a sophisticated mobile laboratory that will arrive at Mars in 2012. Click to enlarge.