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The Sojourner rover examines a Martian rock.
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JPL/NASA

Mars, Mars, Mars!
News story originally written on July 8, 1997

NASA's Pathfinder successfully landed on the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997, at 1:07 p.m. (EDT). This marks the historic landing on the red planet after more than 20 years.

The Mars Pathfinder has been hard at work. The imager located on the lander has already taken the "monster panorama", an image of the entire 360 degree view about the lander. The Sojourner rover has set across the Martian terrain, becoming the first robotic vehicle to explore the surface of another planet. The rover is using its Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to analyze rocks near the lander.

Though communication was shaky at first due to a glitch in the modem, transmission from the lander to NASA is now working wonderfully. Even within the first day or so of the mission, the lander was communicating back to Earth at a rate of 8 kb/second, an unprecedented rate. The transmissions have contained the spacecraft's orientation on the surface, data about its entry, descent and landing. The transmissions have also given scientists a first look at the density and temperatures of the Martian atmosphere. The temperature was measured at minus 220 degrees Celsius (minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit) at the landing site. NASA has already received hundreds of new images of a boulder-strewn outflow channel known as Ares Vallis and is expecting more.

Some interesting tidbits have arisen from this mission already. First, the Mars Lander has been renamed in honor of the late Carl Sagan. The Mars Pathfinder lander has been fondly renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin said, "Carl Sagan was a very unique individual who helped young and old alike to dream about the future and the possibilities it may hold. Carl always liked to push the boundaries too, and the Mars Pathfinder mission, with its rover named Sojourner, clearly has done that. Even its very first images contain an array of fascinating scientific questions that he would have loved to debate. We will explore the area with his memory in mind."

Another interesting detail that has arisen is Mattel's release of the Hot Wheels JPL Sojourner Mars Rover Action Pack. It is a toy version of the rover which has already traversed Mars. This points to the public's enthusiasm for this space mission.

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