25 years ago, Nasa landed its first rover on Mars and catalyzed the search for life
The fleet of wheeled interplanetary explorers that followed, including the two rovers now operating on the Red Planet
Curiosity and Perseverance, were launched as a result of the nearly ten-month-long Pathfinder mission and the 83-day journey of its companion Sojourner rover.
On July 4, 1997, a young, ambitious, and tenacious team of scientists in California eagerly watched the data flow into mission control's computers as NASA's Pathfinder spacecraft
spacecraft rocketed into the Martian atmosphere. Together, they built NASA's first-ever Martian rover and toughest lander in history.
After three years of preparation, the performance had finally arrived. Pathfinder crashed into the Red Planet as it descended.
It was travelling at seven kilometres per second through the thin Martian atmosphere without brakes and was on course for a quick five-minute surface hard stop.
Without a doubt, Pathfinder was the most durable lander we have yet delivered to Mars.
The mission's project scientist, Matthew Golombek, tells Inverse that the others had shied away from rocks.
Pathfinder had to be tough.
Golombek, a former geologist, realised they needed a microwave-sized robot that could truly scout out the ground to "get a flavour of what the surface looks like" for further exploration of Mars
The Viking spacecraft, which landed on Mars in 1976 and raised significant issues about the planet's early past, possibly including the presence of water
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