"When and where did Pathfinder land on Mars? What was its mission? What did the Sojourner rover find? Are there other NASA Mars missions?"
Bouncing on Mars
With a thundering roar and a dazzling blast of light and smoke the Delta rocket lifted Mars Pathfinder on its way to Mars in December, 1996. The journey of millions of miles took about six months. Soon the space voyager was in sight of the mysterious planet. The spacecraft landed on Mars in July, 1997 and began a successful mission of exploration. Click above or here to find out more about the mission and the robot rover.
The Mars Pathfinder landed about the center of this NASA map (right) where the black arrow indicates. Note the islands and channels as well as the craters in the map. The NASA scientists and engineers were very cautious when selecting the site so that a safe landing could be achieved.
The landing used a unique combination of heatshield, parachute and rockets to slow down during entry and airbags to cushion the fall. The lander bounced about 16 times and landed upright where it unfolded. The Sojourner rover was guided down a ramp the next day to begin exploration of the surface.
The lander carried an imager (camera), magnets for measuring magnetic properties of soil, wind socks, and an atmospheric structure instrument/meteorology package. The rover carried an Alpha Proton X-ray spectrometer (APXS), three cameras and technology experiments.
There are two current missions to Mars that you might want to learn more about, the Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Odyssey programs.
Mars Global Surveyor
In November 1996, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began America's return to Mars after a 20-year absence by launching the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. Since then Surveyor has returned an unprecedented amount of data regarding Mars' surface features, atmosphere, and magnetic properties. The mapping phase of the mission began in mid-March 1999. During mapping operations, the spacecraft circles Mars once every 118 minutes at an average altitude of 378 kilometers (235 miles).
2001 Mars Odyssey is an orbiter carrying science experiments designed to make global observations of Mars to improve our understanding of the planet's climate and geologic history, including the search for water and evidence of life-sustaining environments. On April 7, 2001, the 2001 Mars Odyssey was launched on a Delta II launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After arriving in orbit in October, 2001, the spacecraft began its science mapping orbit (for 917 Earth days) and will serve as a communications relay for U.S. and international landers arriving at Mars in 2003/2004.
In 2003, NASA plans to launch two Mars Exploration Rovers. These twin geology-laboratory rovers, each the size of a desk and capable of traveling up to 110 yards a day from their respective landing sites, will explore the surface of Mars. Other missions, including landers and orbiting missions, will follow every 26 months. Find out about these rovers, future missions and the Viking, Pathfinder and other missions to Mars.
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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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