The first mini rover landed by parachute on Mars surfaceNamed after a Civil War abolitionist on July 4, 1997 atop the Pathfinder lander, dubbed Sojourner, the spacecraft began a revolution in Mars exploration technology, as production of NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance spacecraft continued.
According to the American “space” website, the Sojourner rover spent nearly four months working on Mars analyzing the chemistry of the rocks and transmitting its observations to Earth.
The results, which were broadcast in real time on the Internet, showed that the Red Planet is potentially habitable, saying, “Scientific results indicate that Mars at some point in the past was warm and humid, with water in its liquid state and a thicker atmosphere.” .
Sojourner is now an important solar-powered predecessor to NASA’s much larger nuclear-powered rover, and these rovers are part of a generation-long network of landers, orbiters and other vehicles that are exploring the Red Planet to understand its complex history.
And questions that preoccupy scientists to this day remain why Mars’ weak atmosphere, the amount of water running at the surface, and whether habitable conditions exist.
Pathfinder has proven so famous in public memory that it marked a crucial turning point in 2015’s “The Martian,” a Hollywood film promoted by NASA and based on Andy Weir’s novel about an astronaut making his solo journey on the Red Planet after being stranded.
The mission conducted its final transmission on September 27, 1997, leaving both Pathfinder and Sojourner silent on the surface, but its data would essentially continue.
NASA still holds 16,500 images from Pathfinder and 550 images from Sojourner that modern-day scientists can analyze to gain new insights into the history of the Red Planet.