NASA Mars Probe
Courtesy of NASA's National Space Science Data Center
Mars Pathfinder Mission |
Mars Pathfinder Rover
Water History, Rock Composition
The Surface of Mars
History of Space Exploration
On-orbit dry mass: 463.00 kg
Nominal Power Output: 35.00 W
The Mars Pathfinder was the second of NASA's low-cost planetary Discovery missions to be launched. The mission consists of a stationary lander and a surface rover. The mission had the primary objective of demonstrating the feasibility of low-cost landings on and exploration of the Martian surface. This objective was met by tests of communications between the rover and lander, and the lander and Earth, tests of the imaging devices and sensors, and tests of the maneuverability and systems of the rover on the surface. The scientific objectives include atmospheric entry science, long-range and close-up surface imaging, rock and soil composition and material properties experiments, and meteorology, with the general objective being to characterize the Martian environment for further exploration. (Mars Pathfinder was formerly known as the Mars Environmental Survey (MESUR) Pathfinder.)
After landing, the airbags deflated and were retracted. Pathfinder opened its three metallic triangular solar panels (petals) 87 minutes after landing. The lander first transmitted the engineering and atmospheric science data collected during entry and landing, the first signal being received at Earth at 18:34 UT (2:34 p.m. EDT). The imaging system obtained views of the rover and immediate surroundings and a panoramic view of the landing area and transmitted it to Earth at 23:30 UT. After some maneuvers to clear an airbag out of the way, ramps were deployed and the rover, stowed against one of the petals, rolled onto the surface on 6 July at about 05:40 UT (1:40 a.m. EDT).
The bulk of the lander's task was to support the rover by imaging rover operations and relaying data from the rover to Earth. The lander was also equipped with a meteorology station. Over 2.5 meters of solar cells on the lander petals, in combination with rechargeable batteries, powered the lander. The lander on-board computer is based on 32-bit architecture with 4 million bytes of static random access memory and 64 million bytes of mass memory for storing images. The main lander components are held in a tetrahedral shaped unit in the center of the three petals, with three low-gain antennas extending from three corners of the box and a camera extending up from the center on a 0.8 meter high pop-up mast. Images were taken and experiments performed by the lander and rover until 27 September 1997 when communications were lost for unknown reasons.
The landing site in the Ares Vallis region of Mars is at 19.33 N, 33.55 W. The lander has been named the Sagan Memorial Station. The Ares Vallis region of Mars is a large outwash plain near Chryse Planitia. This region is one of the largest outflow channels on Mars, the result of a huge flood (possibly an amount of water equivalent to the volume of all five Great Lakes) over a short period of time flowing into the martian northern lowlands.
The Mars Pathfinder mission cost approximately $265 million including launch and operations. Development and construction of the lander cost $150 million and the rover about $25 million.