Mars Pathfinder Mission

It all began with plans for a small and lightweight rover.

The spacecraft couldn't carry much rocket fuel. Instead, for the first time on an American Mission, the plan was to use airbags, and bounce the spacecraft down on Mars.

Then, the spacecraft would unfold...the rover would roll down... and place its rock sniffer on the most interesting targets.

Behind the slick computer graphics the reality of the Mission was years of hard work and tests, and tests, and tests of the new techniques.

The Pathfinder Team did its darndest to rip the kevlar bags to pieces.

They bashed them down rock slopes to see how much they could handle.

Back at JPL, the rover was put through its paces.

As a result of a student competition, it now had a name "Sojourner", after the 19th century abolitionist heroine.

In a spectular night luanch, the Mars Pathfinder was off to Mars...

Back at JPL, the Pathfinder Team just kept on working, testing scenarios for what might perhaps go wrong when they landed.

They rehearsed how to drive the rover with special 3-D software and fancy glasses...and Tony Spear worried about the all-important entry, descent and landing sequence...

Tony Spear
Project Manager, Mars Pathfinder
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA/Caltech

Five years of work now boils down to 5 minutes for Entry, Descent and Landing...

Pathfinder landed safely...

Over the next few weeks, surpassing the nominal lifetime of the Mission 7 times over, Sojourner rolled up to rocks like "Barnacle Bill"..."Yogi"..."Scooby Doo" and "Wedge", "Ren" and "Stimpy."

Joy Crisp
Rover Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA/Caltech

Most of the names have been cartoon characters or animals or things that the rocks are shaped like, so. It just makes it very easy to talk about the rocks and remember which ones they are when we're discussing what to do with the rover or where the rover ended up.

In a wrap-up press conference, Matt Golombek said some of the images seemed to show that water had stayed liquid on Mars long enough to create boulders containing small, rounded rocks-called "conglomerates."

Matt Golombek
Project Scientist, Mars Pathfinder
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA/Caltech

And if that's an old rock, that suggests, without question, that the environment on Mars was warmer and wetter in the past, to the point that liquid water was stable with the atmosphere. And as you now that's the one requisite for life. That's tremendously exciting.

Take a VIRTUAL MARS tour of the Pathfinder landing site with Matt Golombek and others as your personal guides, using RealVideo clips.