It was on Independence Day 25 years in the past that a bit of rover named after a Civil Battle abolitionist parachuted and tumbled to the Pink Planet’s floor on airbags.
NASA’s first-ever Mars rover, dubbed Sojourner, touched down in Chryse Planitia on July 4, 1997, atop its touchdown automobile, Pathfinder. The pair of spacecraft heralded a revolution in Mars exploration expertise that NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers proceed to at the present time, 1 / 4 century later.
The Pathfinder rover’s identify was chosen (opens in new tab) from a nationwide contest gained by Valerie Ambroise, 12, whose profitable essay mentioned the significance of Sojourner Fact, aka Isabella Van Wagener. (Now, the essay winner seems to be an actual property agent in Connecticut.)
Associated: 1 12 months later, Ingenuity helicopter nonetheless going sturdy on Mars
The Sojourner rover namesake spent almost 4 months — 12 instances its design lifetime — engaged on Mars: nestling as much as rocks, analyzing their chemistry and relaying its observations to Earth.
The outcomes, broadcast in real-time on early Web networks, confirmed a Pink Planet probably liveable to life: “Ensuing scientific findings steered that Mars was at one time in its previous heat and moist, with water current in its liquid state and a thicker environment,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, which managed the rover, said (opens in new tab) of the mission.
Right now Sojourner serves as an vital solar-powered ancestor for right this moment’s a lot bigger, nuclear-powered rovers by NASA: Curiosity (about to hit its tenth Earth anniversary on Mars) and Perseverance (which touched down on Feb. 18, 2021 accompanied by the first-ever Martian helicopter, Ingenuity.)
These rovers type a part of a generation-long community of landers, orbiters and different autos exploring the Pink Planet to make sense of its advanced historical past. Why the Martian environment thinned, how a lot water ran on the floor and whether or not liveable situations had been current are questions that also preoccupy scientists right this moment.
Twenty-five years in the past right this moment, a real pioneer touched down. Sojourner proved we might drive on Mars; every rover since has achieved true overland exploration. I’m the fifth on this line, gathering samples that might sooner or later return to Earth and rewrite historical past. Onward. pic.twitter.com/ikLdrPOc7cJuly 4, 2022
The mission additionally served as a number one mild in partaking the general public. Right now’s rover groups use tweets, TikTok, and livestreamed occasions to herald new findings on Mars.
The a lot earlier Web of 1997 noticed frequent uploads of images to the Pathfinder web site, which nonetheless sports activities its pre-millennial design right this moment. At first, NASA thought it will get 25 million downloads post-landing; it rapidly up to date that estimate threefold, the company recalled (opens in new tab) in 2017. The site visitors load pressured different company servers to pitch in to keep away from web site crashes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, however it all labored.
Pathfinder proved so in style within the public’s reminiscence that it represented a vital turning level in 2015’s “The Martian,” a Hollywood film (promoted by NASA and primarily based on an Andy Weir novel) about an astronaut making his method solo on the Pink Planet after being stranded.
The mission made its remaining transmission on Sept. 27, 1997, leaving each Pathfinder and Sojourner silent on the floor, however its knowledge will persist basically endlessly. NASA nonetheless holds 16,500 photos from Pathfinder and 550 photos from Sojourner that modern-day scientists can analyze to realize new insights concerning the Pink Planet’s historical past.