Basics of
Spaceflight Banner

Spacecraft Information

Mars Pathfinder

diagram of Mars Pathfinder components

Classification: Lander spacecraft with surface rover.

Mission: Analyze Martian soil.

Features: Pathfinder was a low-cost mission with a single flight system launched December 1996 aboard a Delta rocket for a Mars landing in July 1997. The spacecraft entered the atmosphere directly from its transfer trajectory, and analyzed the atmosphere on the way in. It carried a small rover, which performed technology, science, and engineering experiments on the surface of Mars.

The lander parachuted toward the surface, with retrorocket braking assist. Eight seconds before impact on the Martian surface, three airbags inflated on each of the three folded "petals" of the lander, cushioning its impact. After the airbags deflated, the petals then deployed, exposing solar panels to the sunlight, and righting the lander. The rover then drove off the solar panel and onto the Martian soil. The lander was designed to operate on the surface for over 30 Martian days and nights, but it survived longer, returning panoramic views of the Martian landscape, and measuring the soil's chemistry, and characterizing the seismic environment.

Stabilization: Spin stabilized during cruise.

See also: Spacecraft overview image; Pathfinder Project website; Entry, Descnet and Landing; Deployment animation mpeg; View of lander on Martian surface taken from the Sojourner Rover.