The Mars Pathfinder Mission

The First Images!

The above image represents Humankind's return to the Red Planet.
More than twenty years after the Viking I and II missions, Pathfinder has landed on Mars.

The image above was one of the first to be downloaded.
Note the hill rising on the far top-right.

Airbags may be blocking Sojourner's way:


The first images from Pathfinder showed a lander and rover in ship shape on the Martian surface, with just one small problem.
The airbags that cushioned the lander's impact with Mars didn't fully retract. They initially blocked the path the rover would use to drive off Pathfinder and onto the Martian surface. Rover team scientists were unconcerned, however. They had planned for this eventuality and had a simple fix at the ready.
By lifting the "petal" slightly, they can use the lander's winches to further withdraw the airbags, and pull them out of the way.
The spacecraft's main, and most powerful antenna was locked onto by Mission Control at 7:30 P.M. EDT. It's transmitting the first images from the surface of Mars in over two decades.
Pathfinder called home about 5:20 P.M. EDT to tell NASA the landing went perfectly. After touching down this morning, Pathfinder withdrew its airbags and deployed its petals, then waited for the Sun to rise over Ares Vallis, the landing site. The initial return of data indicated everything went as planned.
The temperature on the surface of Mars where the lander sits was about minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit and the gravity roughly one-third that of Earth.
Though its situation seems relatively cushy now, Pathfinder experienced some pretty powerful forces as it landed. On its first bounce alone it withstood a shock 18.6 times the power of Earth's gravity.
Pathfinder had no difficulty unlocking its sensor "head" which is critical to locating the Sun. The lander uses the Sun to aim the high-gain antenna toward receivers on Earth. Those signals, which carry about as much information as a modem from the early '80s, take about 11 minutes to travel to Earth.
At about 5:21 P.M. EDT Pathfinder began transmitting detailed information about the status of the lander and rover. NASA released Pathfinder's first images at about 7:30 P.M. EDT, after the Sun rose on Mars.
It took about an hour to retract the giant airbags that cushioned Pathfinder's landing. Once deflated, the craft's three petals opened up; these stabilized the lander and capture the Sun's rays to generate power.
Later in the day, the real star of the show makes its appearance. The Sojourner rover, which according to Mission Control "is awake and healthy," will venture out of Pathfinder and start wandering about.
The goal of NASA's beagle-sized Martian dune buggy is to survey the Martian surface, and gather information about the rocks on Ares Vallis, the flat Martian flood plain where Pathfinder rests.
Sojourner is no Energizer Bunny; it will stay outside the lander only as long as its non-rechargeable lithium batteries hold out, anywhere from a week to a month.

The image below shows that now the Mars Pathfinder airbags have been successfully retracted, allowing safe deployment of the rover ramps.
The airbags visible prominently in the first images are noticeably retracted at the bottom of this image. The Sojourner rover is seen still docked, and rocks are visible in the background.

The image below is a mosaic, prepared by Andrés Valencia, showing a panoramic of the South view of the Carl Sagan Memorial Station on Mars.

The mosaic was built from NASA-JPL images 80808_full.jpg, 80811_full.jpg, 80812_full.jpg, and 80815_full.jpg.

80808_full.jpg (left):
Large boulders are visible in this enlargement of pictures taken by the Mars Pathfinder lander camera on July 4, 1997. The landing site is in the dry flood channel named Ares Vallis. The boulders probably represent deposits from one of the catastrophic floods that carved the ancient channel. Between the rocks is brownish windblown soil. The gray-tan sky results from dust particles in the atmosphere.

80811_full.jpg (center):
This is one of the first pictures taken by the camera on the Sagan Station shortly after its touchdown at 10:07 AM PDT on July 4, 1997. The small rover, named Sojourner, is seen in the foreground in its position on a solar panel of the lander. The white material on either side of the rover is part of the deflated airbag system used to absorb the shock of the landing. Between the rover and the horizon is the rock-strewn martian surface. Two hills are seen in the right distance, profiled against the light brown sky.

80812_full.jpg (right):
In this image from the Pathfinder IMP camera, a diversity of rocks are strewn in the foreground. A hill is visible in the distance (the notch within the hill is an image artifact). Airbags are seen at the lower right.

80815_full.jpg (bottom):
This image from the Mars Pathfinder IMP camera shows airbags in the foreground, a large rock in the mid-field, and a hill in the background.
Visible at the rear end (right) of the rover is the Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer.
The Sojourner rover and undeployed ramps onboard the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft can be seen in this image, by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP).
The microrover Sojourner is latched to the petal, and has not yet been deployed.
The ramps are a pair of deployable metal reels which will provide a track for the rover as it slowly rolls off the lander, over the spacecraft's deflated airbags, and onto the surface of Mars.
One or both of the ramps will be unfurled, and then scientists will decide whether the rover will use either the forward or backward ramp for its descent.
The airbags behind the rover were at this time blocking the ramp from being safely unfurled.
The rover is 65 cm (26 inches) long by 18 cm (7 inches) tall; each of its wheels is about 13 cm (5 inches) high.
A number of image processing artifacts are seen in this picture. Most apparent are seams between sub-frames offsetting portions of the rover's wheels and solar panel, color fringes that result from viewing the rover from the two separated eyes of the camera, and blocky fringes near edges and smooth areas that are created by data compression.

The Best Image!

This is an image link to a reduction (64KB) of the 360 degree, high resolution 'Presidential Panorama' taken by the Mars Pathfinder lander IMP camera on Sols 17 and 18 (July 21, 1997).

The North-East View

This image is a link to a view (56KB) to the northeast of the lander, it is annotated to show the variety of rocks in this landing site and what they tell us.

Some Rocks

This portion of the "monster panorama" shows some of the unofficial names that have been applied to rocks at the Pathfinder landing site.
Barnacle Bill, Yogi, Scooby Doo, and Lamb have been investigated by the Sojourner rover and its Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer. Couch is a large rock on the horizon.
The names are used by the Pathfinder team to help identify and keep track of the many rocks at the landing site.

Mars Sunset

Mars Sunset on Sol 28-29 (1-2 August 1997).

Link to the Pathfinder Mission Rover in ARVAL

Link to the Pathfinder Mission 3-D Images in ARVAL
(Requires red and blue filters)

Link to the Pathfinder Mission Status Reports in ARVAL
(Segmented in weeks, updated daily)

Updated: August 5 '97

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Back to the Mars Pathfinder Page in ARVAL