Overview of the Mars Pathfinder Mission: Launch through landing, surface operations, data sets, and science results

M. P. Golombek, R. C. Anderson, J. R. Barnes, J. F. Bell, N. T. Bridges, D. T. Britt, J. Brückner, R. A. Cook, D. Crisp, J. A. Crisp, T. Economou, W. M. Folkner, R. Greeley, R. M. Haberle, R. B. Hargraves, J. A. Harris, A. F.C. Haldemann, K. E. Herkenhoff, S. F. Hviid, R. JaumannJ. R. Johnson, P. H. Kallemeyn, H. U. Keller, R. L. Kirk, J. M. Knudsen, S. Larsen, M. T. Lemmon, M. B. Madsen, J. A. Magalhães, J. N. Maki, M. C. Malin, R. M. Manning, J. Matijevic, H. Y. McSween, H. J. Moore, S. L. Murchie, J. R. Murphy, T. J. Parker, R. Rieder, T. P. Rivellini, J. T. Schofield, A. Seiff, R. B. Singer, P. H. Smith, L. A. Soderblom, D. A. Spencer, C. R. Stoker, R. Sullivan, N. Thomas, S. W. Thurman, M. G. Tomasko, R. M. Vaughan, H. Wänke, A. W. Ward, G. R. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Mars Pathfinder successfully landed at Ares Vallis on July 4, 1997, deployed and navigated a small rover about 100 m clockwise around the lander, and collected data from three science instruments and ten technology experiments. The mission operated for three months and returned 2.3 Gbits of data, including over 16,500 lander and 550 rover images, 16 chemical analyses of rocks and soil, and 8.5 million individual temperature, pressure and wind measurements. Pathfinder is the best known location on Mars, having been clearly identified with respect to other features on the surface by correlating five prominent horizon features and two small craters in lander images with those in high-resolution orbiter images and in inertial space from two-way ranging and Doppler tracking. Tracking of the lander has fixed the spin pole of Mars, determined the precession rate since Viking 20 years ago, and indicates a polar moment of inertia, which constrains a central metallic core to be between 1300 and ∼2000 km in radius. Dark rocks appear to be high in silica and geochemically similar to anorogenic andesites; lighter rocks are richer in sulfur and lower in silica, consistent with being coated with various amounts of dust. Rover and lander images show rocks with a variety of morphologies, fabrics and textures, suggesting a variety of rock types are present. Rounded pebbles and cobbles on the surface as well as rounded bumps and pits on some rocks indicate these rocks may be conglomerates (although other explanations are also possible), which almost definitely require liquid water to form and a warmer and wetter past. Airborne dust is composed of composite silicate particles with a small fraction of a highly magnetic mineral, interpreted to be most likely maghemite; explanations suggest iron was dissolved from crustal materials during an active hydrologic cycle with maghemite freeze dried onto silicate dust grains. Remote sensing data at a scale of a kilometer or greater and an Earth analog correctly predicted a rocky plain safe for landing and roving with a variety of rocks deposited by catstrophic floods, which are relatively dust free. The surface appears to have changed little since it formed billions of years ago, with the exception that eolian activity may have deflated the surface by ∼3-7 cm, sculpted wind tails, collected sand into dunes, and eroded ventifacts (fluted and grooved rocks). Pathfinder found a dusty lower atmosphere, early morning water ice clouds, and morning near-surface air temperatures that changed abruptly with time and height. Small scale vortices, interpreted to be dust devils, were observed repeatedly in the afternoon by the meteorology instruments and have been imaged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number98JE02554
Pages (from-to)8523-8553
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE4
StatePublished - Apr 25 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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