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
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