Mars Pathfinder Lander Prototype

    Getting the Public Excited About Exploring Mars

    How did Sojourner, the first rover NASA successfully landed on Mars, get its name? The rover and its flight spare were named through a contest open to all students under 18. First place was Sojourner Truth, an African American abolitionist and women's rights activist. The flight spare was named after Marie Curie, the famous physicist and chemist. The Pathfinder Sojourner mission was not only a successful mission to Mars, but it engaged the public in planetary exploration.

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This object is on display in the Space Science at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Space Science

Mars Pathfinder was the first spacecraft to land on the surface of the red planet since the Viking mission in 1976. The artifact is a full-scale engineering prototype for a spacecraft that was launched on December 4, 1996. On reaching Mars on July 4, 1997, the spacecraft entered the planet's thin atmosphere, was slowed by a parachute and then rockets, and then landed by bouncing on inflated airbags. The protective aeroshell then unfolded to provide the three flat platforms, one of which held a rover (Sojourner).

Pathfinder had a TV camera and scientific instruments to gather scientific data on the martian atmosphere and weather, as well as solar cells to provide power and communications. The lander operated for over 90 days, during which it relayed 2.3 gigabits of data including that gathered by Sojourner. Some of this data suggest the presence of large amounts of water on Mars in the distant past. The spacecraft as well as the prototype were designed and built by JPL for NASA's office of Space Science.

This engineering model was transferred to NASM by NASA in 1999.