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064

Pathfinder

OLogy Series
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card
064

Pathfinder

OLogy Series
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Pathfinder landed on Mars' surface carrying the
six-wheeled Sojourner rover, a mobile robot. Rover and lander took over 17,000 pictures, analyzed rocks and soil, and sent back 8.5 million measurements of the red planet's atmospheric pressure, temperature, and wind. Sojourner was operated from Earth by remote control -- but the commands took about six minutes to reach Mars.

What features did the Pathfinder space probe have that most orbiting spacecraft do not?

solar panels

rearview mirrors

a heat shield

Are you right?

Correct!

Pathfinder's heat shield kept the spacecraft from burning up in Mars' atmosphere. As Pathfinder entered the atmosphere, the heat shield partially burned away, but Pathfinder remained intact.

What did Pathfinder's landing have in common with a car accident?

inflated airbags

lots of yelling and screaming

a big explosion

Are you right?

Correct!

An enormous airbag was inflated under Pathfinder to soften its landing and protect the fragile instruments on board.

The shape and arrangement of rocks seen by Pathfinder suggest that there was once water on Mars.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Rounded rocks tell us that water may have once flowed on Mars. Life needs liquid water -- ­that's why we're looking for it on Mars.

Pathfinder could withstand being hit by big meteorites.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Micrometeorites, meteorites the size of a grain of sand, pose no problem, but collisions with large meteorites, which are rare, could destroy the spacecraft.

Travel time to Mars: 7 months
Touchdown date: July 4, 1997
Operation time: built to last 30 days, worked for 90 days
Purpose of mission: to study rock chemistry, soil chemistry, temperature changes, atmosphere on Mars
Features: lightweight spacecraft carrying advanced camera equipment, scientific instruments, and the Sojourner rover

Image credits: courtesy of JPL, California Institute of Technology and NASA.