It was Independence Day 25 years ago when a small rover named after the Civil War epidemic crashed and landed on Red Planet airbags.
NASA’s first Mars rover, called the Sojourner, landed on Chryse Planitia on July 4, 1997, over its spacecraft, the Pathfinder. These spacecraft announced a revolution in the Mars exploration technology that NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance spacecraft continue to this day, a century later.
The name of the Pathfinder rover was chosen (opens a new tab) in the national competition won by Valerie Ambroise, 12, whose winning story discussed the importance of Sojourner Truth by Isabella Van Wagener. (Now, the winner of the article appears to be a real estate agent in Connecticut.)
The Sojourner rover’s namesake spent about four months – 12 times its design life – operating on Mars:
Sitting on top of rocks.
Analyzing its chemistry.
Transmitting what it saw on Earth.
The results, which were broadcast in real-time on early Internet networks, showed the life-sustaining Red Planet: “Scientific discoveries suggest that Mars was once warm and wet, with a fluid-filled atmosphere. In space, “NASA California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), with a rover, means (opens to a new tab) of missiles.
Today Sojourner acts as the most important solar power on today’s most potent, nuclear-powered rover by NASA: Curiosity (which will come to mark 10 Earth anniversary on Mars) and Perseverance (arrived February 18, 2021), the first – Martian helicopter, Intelligence.)
These rovers are part of a long-standing network of landers, orbiters, and other vehicles exploring the Red Planet to make sense of its complex history. Why the Martian atmosphere declined, how much water flows over the Earth, and whether living conditions were a mystery to scientists today.
The machines also served as a leading light in public consultation. Modern rover teams use tweets, TikTok, and live streaming events to inform discoveries on Mars.
The previous 1997 Internet saw the regular uploading of images to the Pathfinder website, which still played with its pre-millennium design. Initially, NASA thought it would receive 25 million downloads after its arrival; it quickly updated that triple rating, the agency recalled in 2017. The amount of traffic forced some agency servers to intervene to prevent a website crash at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but it all worked out.