July 4th, 2017 not only marks 241 years of American Independence but also the success of NASA’s Pathfinder mission for exploring Mars, launched 20 years ago, in 1997. The lander was the first to successfully touch the surface since the 70s, thus paving the way to better exploration of the Red Planet, which is still a strong contender for human colonization in the future.
NASA’s First Lander Reached Mars 20 Years Ago
Since the mid-1970s when orbiters Viking 1 and Viking 2 were sent to land on Mars in search of life forms and to perform tests on the general relativity of the planet, NASA launched the Pathfinder mission. The lander was sent into space in 1996 and it took eight months for it to finally touch its surface. Both robots were designed for exploring Mars and its harsh terrain in order to bring back necessary geological samples.
The Pathfinder lander was designed to function for a month and the Sojourner rover for only a week. However, both robots managed to gather data about Mars’ atmosphere and geology for almost three months, helping the scientists to develop better space exploration machines. As a result, in 2004, NASA sent Spirit and Opportunity to the Red Planet, now equipped with better landing gear and advanced computers. Both rovers went in search for water or signs that would indicate past water activity and both found plenty of such evidence. Moreover, both Spirit and Opportunity functioned for more than the three months Sojourner set the record for. Spirit stopped transmitting in 2010 while Opportunity is still functional today.
The Pathfinder mission started the age of space exploration successfully, prompting the scientists at NASA to develop and re-develop the technology that could potentially host future human colonists. Apart from the Pathfinder lander, other robots that managed to touch the surface of the Red Planet over the years are the Phoenix lander, Curiosity Rover, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere Volatile and Evolution Mission. These successes only increased the scientists’ interest in the planet and encouraged entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and his SpaceX program to turn a past Sci-Fi concept into reality.
Image source: Pixabay
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