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Kid's Tour to Mars

Pathfinder Mission

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Carl Sagan Memorial Station

The Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars in July, 1997 and began a successful mission of exploration. This overview of the Pathfinder project is quoted from NASA/JPL. Click on image for a detail view.

Click for larger image of Mars Pathfinder diagram"Mars Pathfinder was originally designed as a technology demonstration of a way to deliver an instrumented lander and a free-ranging robotic rover to the surface of the red planet. Pathfinder not only accomplished this goal but also returned an unprecedented amount of data and outlived its primary design life.

Mars Pathfinder used an innovative method of directly entering the Martian atmosphere, assisted by a parachute to slow its descent through the thin Martian atmosphere and a giant system of airbags to cushion the impact. The landing site, an ancient flood plain in Mars' northern hemisphere known as Ares Vallis, is among the rockiest parts of Mars. It was chosen because scientists believed it to be a relatively safe surface to land on and one which contained a wide variety of rocks deposited during a catastrophic flood. The lander, formally named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station following its successful touchdown, and the rover, named Sojourner after American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth, both outlived their design lives - the lander by nearly three times, and the rover by 12 times.

Sojourner rover at Yogi rockFrom landing until the final data transmission on September 27, 1997, Mars Pathfinder returned 2.3 billion bits of information, including more than 16,500 images from the lander and 550 images from the rover, as well as more than 15 chemical analyses of rocks and soil and extensive data on winds and other weather factors. Findings from the investigations carried out by scientific instruments on both the lander and the rover suggest that Mars was at one time in its past warm and wet, with water existing in its liquid state and a thicker atmosphere."

In the image at right the Sojourner rover inspects the rock NASA scientists called "Yogi". The rock is about 1 meter (3 feet) high and approximately 6.5 meters (20 feet) from the lander. The rover is 30 centimeters (1 foot) tall.

Major Mission Characteristics

Launch Period Primary Mission Trajectory
December 2 - 31, 1996 Land On Mars - July 4, 1997 6-7 Months
Launch Vehicle Complete Surface Mission End Of Project
Delta II - 7925 August 1997 September 1998

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NASA Mars Missions

Mars Pathfinder
Viking, Pathfinder and other Mars missions

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Geology Terms

Here are some basic terms used in the tour. Find more geology terms in the Glossary.

Volcanic igneous rock related to granite.
Ares Vallis
Area of Mars where the Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner Rover landed.
Volcanic rock caused by partial melting of the Earth's crust.
A smooth plain covered by deposits of sand, gravel and rocks from floods. Sharp-edged rocks have only been carried by floodwaters a short distance while smooth, rounded rocks have traveled long distances.
Coarse-grained igneous rock usually without obvious bands or markings.
Igneous Rock
Rock that has been melted, cooled and become solid.
Metamorphic Rock
Rocks that have changed form through high pressure and heat. Examples are marble, gneiss and slate.
Weathered rocks, gravel, soil and such that covers bedrock.
Sedimentary Rock
Rock formed by pressure and accumulation, e.g., lakebeds changed into rock form loose sand, silt and organic materials.
A vent at the surface where magma, gas and steam erupt. Also, the landform constructed by volcanic material.

Kids' Cosmos… Expanding Minds Beyond the Limits of the Universe

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