- The third lander (since the two Vikings) successfully landing on Mars.
- The first time a bouncing air bag landing mechanism was used for a lander.
- The first time a robot rover was successfully deployed.
- The first time a space mission was broadcasted on the Internet live.
The Mars Pathfinder consisted of a lander and lightweight wheeled robotic rover named Sojourner (named after a a nineteenth-century black feminist and campaigner for the abolition of slavery). It was wrapped in large airbags. After entering the Martian atmosphere, a parachute was first deployed to slow down the falling of the capsule. Then a self-inflating airbag system in the shape of a tetrahedral was released, which "soft" landed on the terrain surface of Mars and rolled and bounced up and down all over the place. After the tetrahedral finally stopped rolling, the airbags were deflated and the lander unfolded itself, letting lose of the robotic rover. It is simply mind-boggling to see how the lander and the rover survived such vigorous movements, especially when one would have expected the scientific equipments on board to be very delicate devices. The video below shows some animations and footage of the landing process.
The main objective of the mission was to demonstrate it is possible to perform extraterrestrial exploration with low cost. As added benefit, the Mars Pathfinder also conducted some scientific experiments with a cameras, atmospheric structure instruments, and a spectrometer on the rover. The rover had six independently-controlled wheels and performed rock analysis as it roved about not far from the lander. The video below shows some footage of the rover moving about.
Roughly three months later, the mission control lost contact with the Pathfinder, but the mission had exceeded its goals just during the first month. Although still visible from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter up high in the Martian sky, the robot (system) had become fully autonomous and just wondered about like a lonely ghost. Just like its name suggests, it had finally broken free from its human masters and became a free, uh, robot!
Anyway, if you want to find out more about the Mars Pathfinder, you can watch "The Pathfinders" Documentary on YouTube.
Picture of the Day:
Photo of a meteor taken by astronaut from the International Space Station.