NASA: Pathfinder lands, sends data to Earth
July 4, 1997
Web posted at: 5:58 p.m. EDT (2158 GMT)
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- The Mars Pathfinder space probe has landed successfully on Martian soil and has transmitted its first batch of data to Earth, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
JPL scientists confirmed the landing based on a change in the
radio signal strength received from Pathfinder's transmitter, then received the first data shortly after 5:00 p.m. EDT.
"We know that it hit the surface, that it all worked, that it
is alive on the surface," Shirley said. "It all worked."
The U.S. probe is the first spacecraft launched from Earth to
arrive on Mars in more than 20 years. The landing, in a
rough, rocky flood plain called Ares Vallis, was confirmed
at 1:07 p.m. EDT. The news was greeted with loud
cheering and hugging, with a few tears, among the scientists
Unlike previous Mars probes, which established an orbit in
the Martian atmosphere and slowly descended to the planet's
surface, Pathfinder used a new technique where it literally
bounced to a stop, buffeted by large air bags that inflated
just before impact.
If all goes as scheduled, here is what should unfold on Mars
over the next few hours:
- Between about 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT (2230 and
2400 GMT), the camera and telecommunications antenna
will be deployed and pointed toward Earth. The first
detailed images will be received on Earth.
- NASA is scheduled to publicly release the first
Mars images from Pathfinder at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT).
- Just before midnight EDT (0400 GMT), Pathfinder's
small, nimble rover, named Sojourner, will move out of
the lander and on to the Martian surface to begin a
month of exploration.
The primary focus of the Pathfinder mission is to
gather data about what kinds of technology will be
needed in designing future Mars probes, which
scientists hope may lead to a manned mission by 2012.
Sojourner will also perform an analysis on the Martian
surface to determine the chemical composition of its
features. Other experiments will also explore the
feasibility of using solar energy to turn Mars'
atmosphere into rocket fuel, a process which may prove
necessary if spacecraft are ever to fly from Mars back
Both the main landing craft and Sojourner also have
cameras on board and will beam back detailed images of
the planet's features.
The mission is designed to last a month before the
solar-powered Pathfinder reaches the end of its life.
But scientists hope that the landing craft and rover
will outperform their scheduled life span.
Pathfinder is not designed to answer the provocative
question of whether life once existed on Mars, because
it will not be returning to Earth with soil or rock
samples which would be needed for a definitive answer.
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